By Theo Vachovsky, Pathwise Member

Today I woke up to another slew of blogs in my Medium queue about: Product Management UX design, Lean ways of building products etc. The blogs were not bad but they were all centered around hard skills and very few (if any) were about soft skills. Yet the most successful products became successful because leaders on those teams were masters of communication and leadership (at least that is the word on the street). I myself am not ashamed to admit that I have fallen flat on my butt several times in my Product Management career. But never has the butt falling been caused by lack of hard skills i.e. it was not due to wrong product decision, not knowing scrum tactics well enough etc. It has always been due to people challenges.

Thus I decided to share some of the ways I try to improve my soft skills – more precisely: communication, working through conflicts, leading teams.

Listen to the communication masters in your company

Nearly every organization has people that are really good communicators. I make it a point to identify these folks, and while in meetings with them, listen with every molecule of my body to every word they say. In addition, about every 1-2 months, I get a 30-min meeting with these leaders and ask them for feedback on what I said during meetings.

Example – While at Bing, I often witnessed tense meetings between teams. I remember one meeting where two scrum teams could not agree on a decision and a joint feature was stuck in “no man’s land”.  One of these communication masters walked into the meeting and within 5 minutes the two teams made up and kissed (figuratively) and the work resumed. He did it with no yelling, no threats, no ultimatums etc. Later he explained the strategy and why he said what he said. That meeting alone was worth thousands of dollars of education.

Take Pathwise Leadership

The Pathwise Leadership courses have been an amazing help. They are good for everyone in business but particularly good for Product Managers. The classes teach you how to work with the different personalities you will undoubtedly encounter as a Product Manager.

Probably the biggest value of the classes is increased self-awareness. You see how you deal with people when you are at your worst. Pathwise helped me reflect on the times I acted like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, and gave me new perspectives on the ways I’ve dealt with others.  

Now I know what you’re thinking, “ I am no Scrooge, I don’t need the ghost of Christmas to show me my failings”. But everyone has and will have their moments of Scrooge-like behavior. Everyone has moments of low self-awareness. For some, it happens once a day, for others once a year, but we all have these moments.

Once you have built this deep self-awareness you can move on to being aware of others. Once again Pathwise helps in this area.

Last but not least, Pathwise helps you deal with the constant stress of career and family life, which in turn makes you a better leader. I saw people come to the first day of class and you could feel the tension and stress in their life. Just standing a few feet away from them made you feel stressed out. Only a year later these same folks walked into the room and you felt calm and collected around them; the transformation amazing to behold

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