Violent Agreement

I have a colleague who beats the drum that, “We do not do project management. We do project leadership.” I tend to agree with him. Though I do think there is an element of management to what project managers will do in the future, I think the leadership competency, though it has generally been present for most successful project managers, will be the largest part of the role.

Recently, while I was making a presentation to the local PMI chapter about organizational agility and the future of project management, he took the floor for a few minutes and vehemently informed us that, “It’s not project management. It’s project leadership.” That’s basically what I was saying. We were in violent agreement, not for the first time.

Has that ever happened to you? It can happen so easily. There may be something we feel really strongly about, and perhaps that we feel alone in the world about, something we feel we have to make clear to the benefit of everyone, and so we make our case wherever we go. And then, we unwittingly we discover that were not alone. In fact we were carrying coals to Newcastle. The person to whom we were advocating has just made that case or is in full agreement with us. But we are carrying on red in the face, voice raised, intensity all over us, as though we were in disagreement.

People can mistake agreement for disagreement under those circumstances. Our body language, tone of voice, and everything about the way we are presenting ourselves says that we are fighting, or we are advocating, or we are competing. And yet we are not actually opposed to each other. By not noticing what is going on around us, we are actually making ourselves a figure of fun under some circumstances and often devaluing the case that we are making or confusing our audience. None of this is helpful.

So how can you spot this? First: listen.

The things we hold most dear are the things we want to protect the most. They may be our beliefs. They may be that one vision we are trying to communicate or that one message we want to know is imprinted on the world before we die. We put a lot of effort into making our point or delivering our message. We can over sell our product. And, it can get to the point where no one wants to listen anymore.

Fellow workers in the field are important. They can be found in the oddest places. They are valuable. They can be alienated by our grandstanding. Sometimes a third party does us the service of helping us understand that we are in violent agreement with the person to whom we are making our case. It’s okay to be not in full agreement. Partial allies are also valuable. Often, however, there is no third party present or brave enough to speak out as we are ranting.

That’s why some skills, such as active listening or “VECS’ing” (Validate, Empathize, Clarify, and Summarize), are so valuable. It’s both wise and helpful to check in every so often to validate that we have understood the other party properly and to discover whether we are being listened to. An especially good time to do this is when we discover that our voice has been the only voice we have been hearing for some time. This gives others an opportunity to speak up and say, “Aren’t you guys just saying the same thing?”

When we discover we are in violent agreement, it can be a little embarrassing. The most common response is really laughter all around. No more time needs to be spent on that particular topic. And isn’t that nice? You can move on and build together on the foundation of what you have in common.

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