If you want to be a bad product manager, assume that people who don’t agree with you are irrational. You’ve presented your argument at least once, and if they still don’t understand, they never will. What are they thinking? They must be nuts! Since you’ll never get through to them, they must be irrational and you need to go around them to still do what you were going to do anyway.
If you want to be a good product manager, seek to understand the other person’s point of view. Product development inherently involves conflict. There may be conflict between what end users want and what purchasers want. Your sales staff may disagree with your marketing group. Product requirements you put forward will likely encounter resistance from your engineering team. Designers and architects will disagree on key points.
Successful product managers are able to work through these conflicts. Avoiding them is impossible; instead, efforts should be put towards addressing them productively.
One of the most useful approaches when dealing with conflict is to assume you are wrong and the other person is right whenever there is a disagreement. Even if you are 100% sure you are right, putting yourself in the mindset of the other party helps you gain a different perspective.
As product managers, we seek to understand the needs, goals, and behaviors of our customers, though rarely is the same respect given to our colleagues. When conflicts arise, the normal response is more often complaining than understanding. We regularly put ourselves in the mind of the customer, so why don’t we put ourselves in the mind of the salesperson, or the marketer, or the engineer?
The Harvard Business School Working Knowledge recently published an excerpt of a new book by Deepak Malhotra and Max H. Bazerman that discusses Dealing with the ‘Irrational’ Negotiator:
What do you do when the people with whom you are negotiating act in ways that can best be called counterproductive? Before throwing up your hands, take a deep breath and ask yourself 3 questions. Do these people lack good information? Are they operating with constraints you don’t know about? Are they holding onto hidden interests?
The article goes on to provide a brief overview of how to identify these three different situations and respond. In most cases, the “irrational” person you are dealing with is actually very rational, though from your narrow perspective they only appear to be acting irrationally. (The article does also give tips for when you are dealing with someone who truly is irrational, though these situations are usually very rare.)
Product managers who seek to empathize with their different internal stakeholders and team members as much as they do with customers will be better able to manage conflict and develop good working relationships. Seek to understand what Malhotra and Bazerman call “counterproductive behavior” rather than marginalize it and you will be more productive and effective in your role.