On gaining respect & trust from your peers.
I guess you already know that you can’t force someone to respect nor trust you. And if your colleagues don’t respect you enough – then you have a real problem.
As I see it – respect and trust go hand in hand. I can’t imagine a scenario where someone respects you, but doesn’t trust you. And I can’t also see how someone can trust you and yet not respect you. Those two qualities are not the same, but they are highly correlated.
During my career, I’ve witnessed more than once how product managers struggle when their peers don’t respect them enough or trust them to do a proper job. It looks bad and I’m sure it feels bad.
What can you do to make sure you don’t fall in that spot?
Well, the TL;DR version is:
Just do your f%#$ing job and aim to be the best product manager out there.
However, I do suggest reading the full post, since the small details do matter and I will make an honest attempt to provide you with some pragmatic advice.
But as always – first things first:
How can you tell that your peers don’t trust or respect you?
I guess that for most of you this is obvious, but just in case you want to know how it feels or in case self-awareness is not your strongest quality (and in that case I’d recommend working on it) – this is how it looks like:
- Your product and priority decisions are being challenged on a constant basis. You keep finding yourself arguing and justifying your decisions to the other stakeholders
- When you participate in a discussion/meeting people are either dismissing what you say, or simply ignore you.
- When you ask people to do something they treat it with the lowest priority and/or never get back to you with updates or confirmation. When you confront them they’ll say they ‘forgot’ or come with some other dummy excuse.
And just to be clear here – I’m not talking about the case when a specific person is acting like that towards you. If you have such a person who is being hostile to you, but the rest are quite respectful and cooperating nicely with you – then this is not a major problem. It’s hard to be likeable by everyone, especially as a product manager who needs to turn down a lot of people and say ‘no’ as part of their job.
But if there is a group of people who are demonstrating this behavior when you are around – then you are in a bad spot and you need to act immediately to change it.
How to earn the respect and trust of your peers?
Like I wrote earlier, the gist of it is to be highly professional at what you’re doing.
After all, your peers will respect you when:
- They are confident that your decisions are based on a vision and/or long term thinking, there is a solid logic behind them and they are definitely not arbitrary.
- Your decisions are consistent. The same underlying logic drives your decisions for features which are related.
- Your decisions are backed up by data or true life experience. You can always explain the rationale behind them.
- When you have to make a bet, because data is unavailable and it’s the first time you’re doing this – you are very transparent about this.
This was about doing your homework and knowing your stuff. But there are also behavioral aspects that will earn you trust and respect:
- You know how to keep secrets and be discreet. When someone talks to you in private it stays private.
- When someone challenges your decisions you never get defensive. You keep calm and reply with reason.
- You steer out of politics as much as you can. You never make a professional decision which is in your favor, but not in the company’s one.
- You stand for what you believe in, and are not afraid to take a minority opinion as long as you can back it up.
- While standing for what you believe in, you are still able to successfully disagree and commit if an opposite decision was made by your superiors.
This kind of behavior will reward you with the trust of others. When you combine professionalism with the proper attitude and behavior then you’ll earn the respect you were hoping for.
Great, but I was hoping for more pragmatic advice like you promised…
True. I did promise it, so here it is. It will take the form of do’s and don’ts.
- Act with confidence. Confidence is a key for earning respect. Lack of confidence is easily sensed by others. How to build up confidence? See the next one.
- Master the ‘why’ (why you believe this feature or product needs to be built). Mastering the why means doing a proper discovery process before any feature and market research. Confidence is built up when you control the ‘why’. This is probably my most important tip and I’ll probably devote a post about it in the future.
- Welcome the challenge. People challenging you is good, as long as their motivation is sincere. If they are really not sure why you made a specific decision (re product, feature or just a requirement) – invite them to speak. It will make your product better. However, control the environment. Set expectations that challenges are very welcome during the discovery process or the spec review – but not afterwards. If someone decided not to show up to the spec review – then they should forever hold their tongue, unless it’s truly critical (of course, some stuff is only found out once the developers are actually starting to work on the feature – so if their feedback is sincere – then welcome it as well).
- Be respectful to others. I am a true believer of karma. Be respectful to others and they will respect you as well. It doesn’t matter if you are higher than someone in the hierarchy. It doesn’t make you a better human being. We are all equal when it comes to how much respect we should be treated with.
- Backup your peers if you believe they were acting with good intentions at heart and yet – screwed up. It will buy you a great deal of respect. But be careful not to do this merely for getting political power. This will corrupt you long term.
- Don’t invent the ‘why’. If someone challenges your decision and you are not sure what to answer, because you didn’t master the ‘why’ and your decision wasn’t based on proper research – then don’t try to come up with made up reasons. Accept the feedback and acknowledge that this point hasn’t been researched properly.
- Never retaliate when being challenged, even if the feedback is unjustified. Stay calm and reply in a concrete manner even if emotions are flooding you.
- Don’t support something you don’t believe in, just because you want to please the other side. Don’t be afraid to express an opinion which is different from your superiors (as long as you do it in front of them). In case you’ve been asked to do something you don’t believe in – I’m not telling you not to do it. I am telling you to state your opinion clearly and explain why you think that doing A, B or C is a mistake. If eventually you are asked to do it by someone senior than you, even though you think it’s wrong – then disagree and commit.
- Don’t criticize people when they are not in the room. It will backfire at you at some point. I assure you. And then people won’t trust you.
If you follow both my general guidelines and the practical advice I provided you should soon see a positive change on how people are addressing you and your overall reputation.
Recall that hard earned reputation and trust are very challenging to build, and yet – can be easily destroyed.
I’ve provided you with some good tips – but the one that you must not forget and always take with you is ‘master the why’. Remember this as it will take you a long way in building your reputation.
That wraps up the post for today.
If you found this post/series useful – let me know in the comments. If you think others can benefit from it – feel free to share it with them.
Thank you, and until next time 🙂