Monday, February 4, 2008

Managing People

On the subject of gatekeepers...
So, you have a dissertation that you want to finish. You have professors that you want to please. And you have professors that may frighten you, or at least set you on edge. Professors are often supportive, but to often they're not.

I just got an e-mail from a client who had written to her professor with some new work she had just completed, about which she was excited, but which indicated work that she still had to do. The professor wrote back asking: "how much of this have you done?" Her initial response was negative: "Damn it, can't he appreciate what I did?" And wouldn't it be nice if we did get appreciated for what we have accomplished? But she was able to refocus on what she wanted to get out of the relationship (which, at this point, is to get her dissertation signed), and look at what the prof was asking, and she responded with the information the prof wanted and with a schedule for finishing what was not done. I think this is the right response: try to give your professors what they want. Try to set up a feedback loop where you and your professors are working to get on the same page to finish your project.

It's pretty certain that your professors want you to finish your degree--it looks good on their record when their students graduate. So, in a way, the idea here is similar to what I was talking about in my previous post about working with an editor: try to understand the professor's motivations, but don't take the comments personally. Just try to respond with good answers. You want to remain true to ourself, but to the extent that you're remaining true to yourself, you want to give your professors what they want, too. Create a win-win situation, if possible (and please excuse my use of that common buzz phrase).

When someone gives you a hard time, you have (in the abstract, at least) a choice between an emotional reaction and a reasoned response that helps you move towards the goals that you have set for yourself. You didn't get what you wanted from some person? What can you do in the future that will help you get what you want down the road?

If you let your relationship with your professor become adversarial, it will make your task harder, and will interfere with reaching the goals that you have set for yourself. If you can take your professor's difficult responses, even if they're insulting in some way, and respond to them in accordance with a plan that helps reach your goal, isn't that optimal? Why let the emotional response, and, perhaps, the petty angst of some professor standin in the way of the goals that you want to reach for yourself?

Set yourself free of emotional dependence on their support, and work to find a reasoned response that helps you achieve the goals that you have set for yourself.

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