When to Shut Your Mouth

Steve was the Vice President of Services. He had a great disdain for the Marketing department and them for him. Nobody was sure where this animosity came from, however. It may have been that he was a shoot-from-the-hip kind of guy and Marketing was run by a thoughtful, take-your-time kind of person. Steve always felt as if Marketing dragged their feet too much, and that the company was missing opportunities because of it.

One day, he received a call from an industry trade journal that wanted to interview someone from the company. Typically, that call would have been immediately forwarded to Marketing for someone to handle. Not today, though. Steve decided that today was the day that he was going to help the Marketing department out. He would do the interview himself.

He scheduled the interview for the following week. In the meantime, he was going around and talking to his team about how he was going to “show Marketing how marketing was done.” The next issue of the journal was scheduled to be published in about four weeks out, and he was going to make sure the opportunity for the company to be front and center wouldn’t pass them by.

A week passed, the day of the interview arrived, and he holed himself up in his office for two hours with the journalist. He came out of the office beaming, surmising that he had given the best interview the company had ever given. He had shared how progressive the company was, what was on the horizon as it relates to new markets, and from the sounds of it, he peppered the conversation with much of his own personal wisdom and insight. He practically paraded around the office letting everyone know what a game-changer this article was going to be once it came out. The company was going to be on the map! He even sent them his picture so it could be included in the article.

Four weeks later, the article did indeed come out but did not in any way reflect a two-hour conversation.  It had been whittled down to about one short paragraph and a large call-out box in the middle of the page. Right next to his picture was the disturbing quote, “You know how [company name’s] IT department is. They’re the slowest around. Our technology helps them speed things up.” The problem was that he was referring to OUR company’s largest client!

We had been doing business with that client for years. Could their IT department be faster? Sure. But, it’s not the kind of thing you want your VP of Services to reiterate to hundreds of thousands of industry subscribers. It didn’t take long for the phones to start lighting up. Our client was furious, to say the least! They wanted to know what he had possibly been thinking. He was banned from setting foot in their office again, and the account was on the verge of being lost.

What a debacle. All because Steve didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.

Do you?

We have to talk — a lot — as project managers. We may find that we spend over 80% of the day talking on conference calls while sitting in meetings, onsite with vendors and clients and a host of other high communication activities throughout the day. There are times, however, when it’s perfectly fine to keep your mouth shut. The following are some of those instances:

When to Shut Your Mouth

When to Shut Your Mouth

When You Don’t Know the Facts

It’s always tempting to start running your mouth when you hear of something that didn’t work out as planned. Perhaps a potential big sale was lost that the sales guys had been working on for months. “Those idiot sales guys,” you may think out loud. “They just can’t seem to bring in any new business to this place. If I was in their shoes I’d have this place swamped with work.”

Remember, there are always two sides to every story. You’re just seeing one side, that they didn’t close the deal. Do you know the reason why? Are the terms of the agreement onerous? Was the customer making demands that would have not been profitable for the company and actually turn into a loss? Until you find out the other side of the story, it’s best to not say too much.

When You Don’t Have the Answers

A fault of many in the corporate world is that it’s next to impossible for them to say three little words… “I don’t know.” It has been ingrained into all of us that we need to have an answer for everything. Admitting you don’t know is the equivalent of not having studied, prepped, or enough experience to justify being in your current position.

The pressure causes people to open their mouth and just make something up. I’ve seen it happen too many times. Rather than say “I don’t know,” they have no problem blurting out all kinds of disjointed facts, figures, and opinions about something they know very little, if anything, about. Do yourself a favor and say, “I don’t know” every now and then. Follow it up with, “But, if you give me about a day I’ll do some research and come back with the answer.”

When You May Upset a Delicate Balance

I learned this lesson a long time ago. In the early stages of contract negotiations with a client, I was brought in along with the sales team to get a better understanding of scope. We all sat at the client’s table when our VP of Sales started talking. He said that it wouldn’t be a problem to have a particular deliverable done by a certain date.

Well, I knew that wasn’t exactly true. I knew that we were backlogged and there was considerably more work ahead before we could even start on this project. I felt compelled to open my mouth and say, “Let’s be realistic here, shall we?” after which I outlined all the reasons why it wasn’t going to be possible to meet that particular date.

Unbeknownst to me, the Sales VP had already worked out a deal with our CEO that we would be able to bring in additional resources dedicated to this one project if the client agreed to work with us.

Whoops. Fortunately, with a lot of back pedaling and apologize we were able to salvage the rest of the meeting and move forward.

Just like parents who don’t disagree in front of their impressionable children, it is in poor form to open your mouth and disagree with your counterpart in front of the client. It’s not that you shouldn’t say something, just take it offline so not everyone is watching the spectacle.

There’s a reason why we all have two ears and one mouth. We should abide by the ratio and listen twice as much as we talk. It’s not likely that you’ll end up in a disastrous situation like Steve did, but you can prevent many misunderstandings and miscommunications if you keep your words in check as a project manager.

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