Working closely with various organizational stakeholders, product managers are positioned at a central organizational interchange. Sales, marketing, customer success, R&D and QA personnel all have different motivation and interests, which unfortunately are not always aligned with those of product management. The R&D team may, for example, strive to utilize new technologies which do not necessarily add value to the customers, while salespeople may push specific customers’ deal-closing features regardless of their relevance to most of the users.
Traditionally, none of the stakeholders report to the product manager, and yet the product manager’s success is dependent on her ability to motivate them. Knowing that behind every stakeholder stands a person, with specific drives, motivations, and issues on their mind (ego, job security, promotions, etc.), product managers must have excellent interpersonal communication skills and communicate effectively with multiple teams inside and outside their company.
Listening to Unspoken Words
Excellent communication skills include deeply understanding each professional interaction. A product manager should know her own goals (while this may sound obvious, think about recent meetings you participated in and ask yourself whether you knew what you aimed to achieve when entering them) and focus on them. But knowing what you are after is not enough.
To influence without official authority, product managers should always be aware of their counterparts’ perspective and bear in mind their goals and motivations as well as potential obstacles before choosing what to say and how. There is no one rule that fits all cases – sometimes it makes sense to take a more assertive approach while in other cases it is better to reach a consensus.
It is an ongoing learning procedure, not only of the generic principles of interpersonal communication, but also of the people you work with – their needs, incentives, and sometimes even their fears. Listening actively will eventually allow you to find your way with them, to present and evangelize new ideas while getting everyone on board to do what’s needed to build and market a winning product.