Side Notes: Project happiness

There is this over exaggerated myth that if you are too happy in your job, then you obviously do not understand it or you are not doing it right. “Smiley happy Project Managers are a rarity, Daniel. Try to smile less.” That was a quote from my very forthright but practical boss, Richard Martin at Sainsbury’s. There was some truth in what he said. The context in which he said it was from a senior management viewpoint. I still keep it in mind when dealing with Directors and CEOs. When dealing with the actual teams doing the complex work – not a chance!

Happiness on projects is critical. It produces an innate environment which every human being on the planet can recognise – because it is our natural state. It can diffuse tensions within the project. It fosters trust. When unhappiness befalls a project, then it is in great danger. Although this may be basic knowledge and common sense, I assure you it is always forgotten about. The reason why, is because we have been hardwired to believe that the harder we work, then the more successful we will be, and hence the happier we will become. I hate to break it to you all – but that is wrong!

Even though we may work harder, does that mean that we cannot be happy at the same time?

Studies show that our brains work in the opposite way. When we are happy, we are more likely to be successful. We are more likely to be positive, open-minded, and more confident. Richard was right; I really do smile a lot. Most people I work with will tell you that. I smile because it costs me nothing and adds to my project delivery acumen. When I am not smiling, it should worry you 🙂 . Do you remember as a child, your mother asking you to smile? Why do you think she did that? For my mother, it would worry her if I did not smile, because it meant something was up.

Happiness is a broadcaster. It is picked up by others, and it can make them happy too. It can change their emotional state. Have you ever been caught in a fit of uncontrollable laughter? What happens to those around you at the time? They too find themselves caught up in your laughter. Even the staunchest of personalities will not be able to resist a certain smile. The point of this project happiness blog insert, despite its metaphysical properties, is that, “Project happiness is the single most important wildcard to use in a failing project. It allows for the creation of innovative solutions.” Let me say that again, “Project happiness is the single most important wildcard to use in a failing project. It allows for the creation of innovative solutions.”

Contrary to the positivity of happiness, is negativity. The part of the brain tied to negativity (the limbic system) is highly sensitive – meaning humans are equally geared for negativity as well as positivity. Team members can interpret meaning in a way that does the project harm or does it good. Negative team members can and do bring harm to project stakeholders. Project managers fall prey to the production of negativity on their projects by not recognising different emotional states, including their values and impacts. Unfortunately there is no organisation rule book in existence that can fully control emotional states. A begrudged team member, for example, may in fact hide their negativity behind the organisation’s codes of conduct, but it is still there. Really listening can thwart the production of unwanted negativity on projects. If that is too late, play your wildcard, happiness. Pour it out as much and as often as you can.

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