Handling Awkward Conversations As A Product Manager

Things are about to get awkward
Things are about to get awkward.

Saying “no” is a popular topic among Product Managers. Unfortunately the “Just Say No” approach often isn’t enough because it ignores the aftershocks and the complexity of tangled emotions and legitimate business needs underscoring the initial request.

You said, “No.” Now things are awkward. What next?

This three-step approach usually works regardless of the particulars:

  • Strike fast – Dont pussyfoot around. Acknowledge the situation — including the fact that this conversation will be hard — then get down to business. Be direct and specific in your examples.
  • Encourage the counterstrike – Ask the other person if they understand what you’ve told them, then let them respond.
  • Mark and move – Stay in control of the conversation. Lay out a clear plan of action with concrete next steps.

Most touchy situations follow similar patterns.

Whether you said “no” to sales and now they’re acting weird, or someone you rely on but doesn’t report to you is letting you down, or you’re being asked to do the impossible without proper resources — life as a PM is riddled with the potential for really strained conversations.

Hard conversations aren’t for the faint of heart. But neither is being a Product Manager.

To succeed in your role, you need to communicate all kinds of things, to all kinds of people, in all kinds of different situations. Being able to graciously handle a really awkward conversation is a real skill, and a real differentiator.

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2 thoughts on “Handling Awkward Conversations As A Product Manager

  1. Great point, Jamie. I think I could write at least one solid post on the importance of a well-stocked liquor cabinet!

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