Reflections on Project Management III: It Is All About Communication

I have saved the discussion of my biggest struggle with Project Management for my final post in this miniseries. Much to my surprise, communication with the rest of the team was one of the more difficult aspects of this semester. This caught me completely off guard because I actually think that I have pretty good communication skills: I don’t shy away from talking about topics just because they are uncomfortable, I write clearly, and I make an effort to be sure I am hearing and understanding others. And yet, I found communication challenging.

After a lot of reflection, there are at least three related issues that contributed to my communication woes. First, I assumed that others would react to the communication of various sentiments as I would react. If someone asks me to “do something if I have time,” I just about always get it done. This is due to my own inability to say “no,” even when I should. I eventually realized that my team members were not all as overly socialized and prone to guilt as myself. When I included statements such as “if you have time,” they took me literally (as they should). If I really needed something done, I had to learn to drop the conditional statement from my emails. It wasn’t so much that my statements were not clear, but that people did not react to certain statements as I expected.

However, this first point is not entirely removed from two other contributions to my communication troubles: insecurity about my own knowledge in DH and a worry over seeming bossy. I discussed this insecurity about my knowledge and my role in telling my teammates what to do in two earlier posts (here and here). How could I—with very little DH knowledge—really have the authority to tell other when to do what? As the semester wore on, this got easier.

The worry about bossiness has been persistent however. Worried that statements would be taken the wrong way, I often inserted wishy-washy language and conditional statements into my emails. As I prepared to talk with the Praxis team about my experience as PM, it occurred to me that this might be a gendered worry. When I brought this issue up at our final meeting, I was surprised by the amount of conversation that it generated. I worried that, because I am a woman, certain statements and requests would be seen as me over stepping my grounds or being temperamental and demanding (I have a particular female adjective in mind that is not appropriate for public space, but I hope you get the drift).

As became clear through our group conversation, others were not prone to actually reading clear and to-the-point statements with this bossy tone simply because of my sex. But, the fact that I worried so much about it was a problem. I’ve come to see that the worry itself is actually a gendered aspect. Because of gendered stereotypes of female leaders and bosses, I constantly worried over the perception of my words and decisions. Men, it seems, might be less prone to this particular type of over analyzing. As Wayne pointed out, men also worry about striking the right tone and being considerate to their colleagues, but women (or at least this woman), worried a lot about invoking the particular feminine adjective mentioned above in a way that would undermine my own legitimacy and credibility with my teammates.

Due to my concern for seeming too bossy, I actually undermined my abilities all on my own by generating vague and imprecise communication with my team. I did eventually get better. As crunch time neared, I learned to just articulate explicitly what needed doing without all the wishy-washy stuff. I am thankful to Gwen for pointing out during our group conversation both that she was relieved and that our progress improved once I was able to just drop all these concerns and do my job by telling the team what to do.

I cannot thank the SLab staff enough for the opportunity to be a part of the Praxis team this year and for their encouraging us to reflect about the experience as we went along. The opportunity to blog and converse with the wider DH community has been just as valuable as the experience of working on Prism. I hope that some of you out there will comment on this miniseries of PM posts. Although my time with Praxis is wrapping up, I am looking forward to continued dialogue about DH and project management! Thank you SLab staff and fellow Praxisers—it has been great!

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