As a Product Manager, you’re the expert in your product, your market, your customers and your competitors. Yet, despite your expertise you find yourself struggling with internal stakeholders, design, schedules, feature prioritization, pricing, messaging, or product strategy. While some of this struggle is natural (you work with smart, opinionated people who each hold a piece of the puzzle), it is also incredibly frustrating. What is the point of all your product manager skills and effort to become the expert, if people still argue with you about your conclusions?
Maximizing Influence by Building Credibility
The root of the word “credibility” is “credo,” which means “I believe” in Latin. Put simply, credibility is the feeling of trust and respect that you inspire in others. No single thing creates credibility. Rather, a combination of things must be in place for you to establish it. And, no matter what your role or position, credibility is something that you have to earn. It takes time, patience, and consistency to build it.
Credibility = Expertise + Trust.
Your expertise is only half of the product manager skill set needed for credibility—you also need to build and maintain trust. While we want to believe that logic influences people, the reality is that we are emotional beings, and logic will only go so far. Your stakeholders are people who make decisions based on their gut emotions, whether they admit to it or not. Thus, trust becomes essential to Product Manager influence.
With trust comes:
- The ability to communicate more clearly.
People trust they are being heard and are more likely to listen more closely to you. They believe your plans incorporate success for them as well as for yourself, and consequently do not need to fight as hard for their view of success.
- An increase in innovation.
Trust allows people to fail and recover, a critical component of innovation. As a Product Manager, you are in a position to encourage innovative thinking, offering support to new ideas and protecting people when new ideas fall flat.
- An increase in stakeholder ownership and alignment.
Your stakeholders will invest in someone’s vision of the product, either yours, their own, or someone else’s. If they trust you on a gut level, they are far more likely to align themselves to your vision.
People Skills That Build Trust
Our goal in exercising “people skills” is not to make other people feel good, but to maximize the amount of trust we are building and maintaining. Below are 9 examples of key people skills for product managers that build trust:
- Integrity — Walk Your Talk
You need to be known as someone who does the right things for the right reasons. To preserve your integrity, think carefully about the choices and promises that you make, and never make a promise or commitment that you can’t keep. When you make a mistake, own up to it immediately, and do whatever it takes to correct it. Own your power and passion. It is important that your stakeholders learn who you are and can count on that consistently.
- Be Authentic
People trust what they can see. When you’re open and honest, others don’t have to guess what your motivations or intentions are, or how those intentions might translate to their actions. Keep this in mind when you interact with your clients, team, or suppliers. You inspire trust when you talk openly about your intentions, values, and goals. Know yourself inside and out, and demonstrate authenticity in everything that you do. Also, keep the lines of communication open, especially when you have bad news to share.
- Listen First, Speak Last
Real listening is 90% of solving disagreements. You want someone on your side? Start by listening to them first. They’ll feel validated having been heard and you’ll know best how to frame your opinion. And you may learn something new, too!
- State Solid YES and NO Answers
Every Yes to one thing is a No to something else, and vice versa. Clearly delivering a Yes or No answer provides focus on what is truly important to a successful product. The ability to withstand the discomfort of the moment of telling someone something they may not want to hear, informs your stakeholders that you are clear on what needs doing and you’re willing to face hardships to get there.
- Be Professional
Professionalism is an important element in credibility because it shows others that you truly care about your relationships and your work. To exhibit professionalism, control your emotions at work. Don’t lash out at others when you’re tired, stressed, or frustrated. When you’re in an argument or negotiation, don’t take others’ comments or opinions personally. Do your best to remain objective, and keep emotion out of the discussion.
- Know Other People’s Jobs
Know what your stakeholders do and how they contribute to the success of the product. Know their processes. Know how they succeed at their job and how you can help them. Not only does it help create empathy for the challenges your stakeholders face, but when seemingly insurmountable problems arise (and they will) you’ll know where to push, pull, or side-step the system, and who can help you.
- Get to the Point Quickly
With all our market and product knowledge we can sometimes try to communicate too much. If you listen to how leaders communicate you’ll realize they get to the point without all the backstory. You can do the same — be polite yes, but also state your need without the backstory unless asked for it. You’ll be amazed at how this skill can transform your collaborative relationships!
- Show Empathy
When talking to stakeholders, the developer team, and customers, understanding the other person’s motives will give you the best chance of arriving at a mutually beneficial decision. Empathy can also help you read into the answer to crucial answers from the developer team like how much time a given feature will take, what the most expensive components will likely be, or whether you should check up on a feature or if they’re already delivering as fast as they can.
- Take All of the Blame and Give Away All the Credit
Whenever possible, take the blame for problems. This sounds counter-intuitive at first, but it works. I’m not suggesting you take the blame for illegal or unethical actions taken by someone else. But when it comes to your product, the person who holds the blame is the one who made the decision. And this subtle distinction contributes to the implied authority that you are the decision-maker for the product.
- From your executive’s perspective, they generally don’t care who is to blame, they want to know that someone is aware of and correcting the problem and won’t let it happen again. They want a responsible leader and you want to visibly be the person in this role.
- From the product team’s perspective, they want to know you’ll shield them from blame. You provide a safe path to success for them.
Of course, your next step is to follow through privately with the person who is responsible and make sure the problem is cleaned up, that gets back to reinforcing your integrity. And finally, make sure to give credit for all product success to your team members, and not take it yourself. This practice of publicly falling on your sword while simultaneously giving away credit will do more to build trust, to establish your authority and leadership, than anything else.
Adding these people skills to your collection of product manager skills will increase your ability to drive a successful product. These are key skills in the path from Product Manager to Product Leader.