Develop a sense of curiosity to build trust and achieve your product goals.
To be a great product manager, do you also need to be a great actor? No, but there are lessons from acting that will make you a better product manager. While I have no acting experience, not even school plays, I have talked with several actors who became business coaches. It was not an obvious career path until I learned from each of them how their acting skills transferred to skills others need off the stage. They apply practices from acting to help business professionals and leaders.
So, when I saw an article in Mind the Product titled, “Oh the Drama! What Product Managers can Learn From Actors,” I eagerly read it. The author, Alison Kemp, shared seven areas where acting techniques can help product managers, which she called:
- Thinking on Your Feet
- High-Performance Teams
- Creative Thinking and Innovation
- Active Listening
- Storytelling, and
I asked Alison to join us to discuss some of these techniques. It proved to be a fun and insightful discussion with important tips for product managers and innovators.
Alison is the founder of Switchvision, which helps clients become more effective communicators, presenters, and interviewers by applying techniques from business, theatre, and psychology.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[7:20] What does it mean to think on your feet?
Life does not go in line with a script, so thinking on your feet is a basic life skill. It’s trusting that the words will come when you need to give an impromptu speech and that you’ll have the confidence to deliver the speech. In a professional setting, I discourage people from scripting a presentation and instead have them focus on how they’ll interact with the audience. It also involves working with silence during one-on-one interactions.
[11:27] How can you utilize these techniques in a meeting?
It’s all about finding someone’s point of view, what’s underneath the things they are saying. Everyone reacts to things but they rarely say why they react that way. In order to really work through a difficult conversation, you need to show curiosity and a willingness to understand where someone is coming from.
[16:05] What role does body language play in these interactions?
There are many reasons for closed body language and it’s not always about the situation you are in, so you have to look at it in context. When someone is closed, it could mean that they are listening and thinking about what’s being said; that’s what an introvert often does. Active listening can help you show a closed person that you are willing to come along with them and creates buy-in needed to commit to an idea or proposal. Maintaining eye contact and matching body language, whether directly or indirectly, can also help build trust.
[24:40] How do these techniques apply in email or other communication that’s not face to face?
Email is the opposite of giving a presentation. You need to tell people what you want them to do first, then go into the rationale for why you want them to do it. Try to match your email style with the other person’s. If they write short emails, you should try to make your emails to them shorter. If they want more details, give them more details. It’s not always good to match when it comes to the time you send emails. If you have someone who emails you in the middle of the night and you respond, you are enabling that behavior and sacrificing your boundaries with them.
[27:13] How can you develop curiosity?
We all have unconscious biases that we need to make conscious in order to challenge them. Put your biases aside and become curious. You can buy yourself time by asking questions that get at someone’s story. The stories we tell ourselves become the stories we tell other people and become our decisions. You need to understand what those stories are in order to truly understand someone.
- Alison’s company, Switchvision.
- Article in Mind the Product, Oh the Drama! What Product Managers Can Learn From Actors.
- Email Alison at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“To begin, begin.” -William Wordsworth
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it on your favorite social network.