Monday, November 26, 2012

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em

As a manager, I've sat through some pretty uncomfortable meetings with interns and upper management.  Sometimes those meetings were project-related in nature, talking about design or construction ideas. Other times those meetings were more generic in nature, like performance reviews or were some sort of attempt at conflict mediation and resolution. The uncomfortable moments generally came when the intern began pushing too hard in a design meeting for a certain feature or material or layout, or when the intern made sharp, emotionally-charged statements that sounded more like accusations than responses. In either case, the issue seemed the same to me: the intern wasn't correctly reading the moment, or s/he wasn't reading the moment at all.

Reading the moment is something I learned to do during my brief foray into stand-up and improv comedy.  If I'm performing a bit that's causing discomfort in the audience, I need to stop those jokes and move to my next group of jokes that they might respond to better.  If I'm running with a scene in an improv skit that's got the audience laughing a little more and a little more with each particular kind of gesture, I need to do more of those gestures, and maybe keep up that weird accent I developed accidentally to do the scene.  Either way, I'm making these changes on stage based on reading the moment, tuning into the audience and the surroundings: the noises they're making (or not making), the looks on their faces, if they're even making eye contact, and so on. But if I decide that I just absolutely come-hell-or-high-water am telling these jokes or am going to make this scene about Jerry Sandusky and Casey Anthony on a blind date, and I don't give a rat's ass how the audience is receiving what I'm doing, then I'm almost assuredly going to bomb.

This works very much the same in an architecture firm.  You may be in a design meeting where you really want the entry to do this instead of that, and your manager disagrees. Sometimes you two can talk through the pros and cons of the entry's layout and design, but perhaps today your manager just isn't having it. If you're not reading the moment, you're ignoring how his voice is getting louder and his answers are getting shorter and shorter. You're not seeing him pinch his lips together tightly and grimacing.  And if you keep not reading the scene, you're about to walk into a minefield. If you are indeed reading the moment, though, you can deftly propose looking at some different options and revisiting this later today or even tomorrow, or you can acquiesce and move on with your manager's suggestion. This isn't giving up or wussing out--it's acknowledging that design and work are about compromise, and always pushing for your way isn't going to be possible or a good idea.  In other words, this is acting like an adult and a professional. 

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