Tag: Communication

Arguing to Learn and to Win

The recent INC. article, Stuck in a Heated Argument? Follow the ‘ATL Rule’ to Ensure Everyone Wins[1] set me to thinking about how best to approach the way we manage major conflicts and minor disagreements, how we argue.

In my book, Managing Conflict in Projects: Applying Mindfulness and Analysis for Optimal Results[2] the message is to approach managing differences with clarity, while accepting the reality that there may be emotions involved, not being driven by them. This is emotional intelligence, the ability to be aware of and manage emotions. It is a foundation for healthy relationships, and healthy relationships include the ability to manage disagreements, whether they are small arguments or major conflicts.

The word conflict needs definition. The general definition from Merriam-Webster is “an extended struggle : fight, battle. : a clashing or sharp disagreement (as between ideas, interests, or purposes) : mental struggle resulting from needs, drives, wishes, or demands that are in opposition or are not compatible. conflict.” From Cambridge dictionary, an active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles: There was a lot of conflict between him and his father. It was an unpopular policy and caused a number of conflicts within the party. His outspoken views would frequently bring him into conflict with the president.”

Here, the term conflict covers any kind of disagreement or struggle that starts off with opposing views. Managing conflict seeks to resolve the conflict.

The conflicts that make the news are beyond the scope of this article, though the same basic principles apply. Here the focus is on the kinds of conflicts that come up in organizations, projects and processes. The principles are:

  1. Step back to see the big picture and how your emotions, beliefs, biases, and mental models affect your perspective.
  2. Seek to understand your mindset, goals, needs, and wants and what influences them
  3. Seek to understand the other parties’ goals, needs, and wants and what influences them
  4. Be mindful of your words, behavior, and feelings, and their impact
  5. Assess the degree to which you can trust and collaborate with the others
  6. Promote a win-win attitude in which the parties jointly resolve the conflict
  7. Recognize that there are some disagreements that cannot be settled with a win for both parties
  8. Compile facts and opinions and examine and use them in decision making to resolve the conflict.

Arguing to Learn and to Win

The INC. article points out that scientific study shows we should “enter debates looking to learn rather than win.” Since it is very difficult for many people to give up winning, I think the right mindset for working on a disagreement is looking to learn and looking to win.

That opens the question of what it means to win. Does it mean getting your way? Or does it mean coming to the optimal solution to the problem at hand? For example, two designers in conflict about which design should be used in a project can collaborate to identify the objectively best design or they can battle one another to get their design accepted.

Researchers identify two primary mindsets that set a stage for the way arguments are addressed: arguing-to-learn (ATL) and arguing-to-win (ATW). In the ATL approach the parties cooperate to get a better understanding of the situation. It implies open mindedness to discover the resolution through research, dialog, and analysis.

In the ATW approach the tendency to believe in a single truth and to cut off or ignore debate in which conflicting opinions and facts are raised. Instead of discovering a resolution the ATW mindset often begins with the resolution, takes it as truth and argues for it with a closed mind.

Understanding the different mindsets and the benefit of using an ATL, the challenge is to work towards making an ATL mindset part of your conflict management process.



A Hybrid Approach

As with all complex social issues, there is no one right answer. Let’s not over-simplify and think that it’s either ATL or ATW. We can also argue to learn and win (ATLAW).

In projects meaningful arguments are about whether, why, how, who, and when things will be done. If the argument is not settled the project may be delayed or motivation and morale will be impacted. If the argument is not settled well, the outcome will be subpar.

Of course, there are other arguments about politics, religion, freedom vs. authoritarianism, the causes of global warming, etc. For these important issues, there may never be a resolution. But when it comes to deciding on a design to use, or a budget or schedule, there must be a winner.

We can take the position that the winner is not the person with the idea, it is the idea that wins. And if the best idea wins, then the people involved win, where winning means that their needs have been met. If the parties take an ATL approach they creatively discover a resolution that may blend elements of alternative solutions or pick one over another. The discovery results from the learning process. Then there is the perception of winning or losing



If everyone agrees as to what it means to win, and recognizes that learning improves the probability of winning, then the players will naturally take a collaborative approach facing the issue rather than facing one another.

But ego and closed mindedness get in the way. The emotional need to win, psychological tendencies to dominate and win, and not knowing of an alternative to win-lose confrontation make collaboration difficult, if not impossible. Getting past that barrier requires process awareness, self-reflection, coaching and training.

Look at your process.

  • Are the principles stated above realistic?
  • Do they naturally occur as part of a healthy flow that allows for differences and promotes win-win resolutions? If they do, be grateful and carry on.
  • If not, how can you subtly or overtly discuss the conflict management process to promote open-mindedness and rational thinking?
[1] Hobson, Nick, INC. https://www.inc.com/nick-hobson/stuck-in-a-heated-argument-follow-atl-rule-to-ensure-everyone-wins.html?utm_source=newsletters&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=INC%20-%20This%20Morning%20Newsletter.Newsletter%20-%20Inc%20-%20This%20Morning%201-13-23&leadId=139009&mkt_tok=NjEwLUxFRS04NzIAAAGJShVVfSySV8qVyMiwe8jQgTYv2wo6BL8ZCEskpEFN5woe4jMmz75uMewcTu8h7xWU1aXXH9Cet_es7oYwP7-5VS8xiaHyKS9Wg0DB_YM
[2] Pitagorsky, George, PMI https://www.amazon.com/Managing-Conflict-Projects-Applying-Mindfulness/dp/193558958X

Best of PMTimes: The Why What and When of a Decision Log

Can you relate to that project that feels like it has been dragging on a little too long?


Moreover, your team is sitting in a conference room drowsy from preparing the final touches when one perky creative soul, who by the way missed the first four months of meetings (thus why they are perky), pops up with a question ‘Why are we doing it this way? We should look at a different option?’

Once the collective groans subside, everyone starts in on a chatter contemplating a different option. “Wait,” you think, “it has already been hashed out!” Quick, where are your notes? Where is that email talking about a different option? Was it in the meeting minutes somewhere? “When was that again? February?” This is all too familiar. You can’t quickly find the results, and you desperately want to stop all of the cross-conversation and new found excitement that has roused up the room. Then you sit back and remember, “Ah yes, I have a decision log!” You swiftly scan it, find the related item and pound your gavel on the table to gain everyone’s attention. It will all be fine, we are on the right track, and we don’t need to spend another moment of discussion because it was already agreed which would be the best action. Phew!


Utilizing a Decision Log, which is a list of critical decisions agreed upon throughout the project, has not yet leaped into mainstream project management practice, although it has started to gain traction being viewed as beneficial for recording impactful decisions and serving as a central repository for those decisions.

Why Do It?

The concept is a simple one. Once a discussion begins regarding a project, decisions are being made with some decisions essential for the direction of the project. Documenting those in a central location can be of value throughout the project as a quick reference and communication tool to assure everyone is aware of the direction.

Decisions may not always be agreed upon by the team members. Rather than opening a discussion for debate each time the topic arises, it is better to resort to the documented decision and move on from the topic.


Additionally, these decisions may be made in a forum that does not involve all team members, and they may be hidden in meeting minutes or informal email messages. Providing a standard method to document and communicate decisions can assure everyone is aware, avoid lack of clarification, and can be used as a method to focus team members when debate arises.

Decisions can be revisited when necessary, and may even be changed when new information presents to the project. Team members who raise valid points that counter a decision should be heard and their opinion valued as it may offer a better course of action.




What Information to Include?

A decision log is a beneficial communication tool to assure all stakeholders are apprised of how a decision was reached, what other options were considered, and who is accountable for the decision. It provides guidance to the team members and can eliminate potential confusion. The format you use may be a spreadsheet, automated log, or another method that suits your environment.

The primary information to capture includes What is the decision, When was it made, Why it was made, and Who made it. Other information may be captured as well and may vary based on the project needs.


When to Include a Decision?

When to include an item in the log involves striking a balance between what is valuable to have recorded versus what is too detailed, and will take thought. As well as considering the overall audience, team members and project dynamics also consider these things:

  • Topics that are frequently debated or where there is often disagreement.
  • Decisions that may be confusing or not clear to all stakeholders.
  • Those made that impact the direction or future work of the project.
  • When alternatives exist, but only one must be selected.
  • Decisions made by leaders, or others outside of the project team, which will impact the work of those team members.
  • Those that impact what or how a deliverable will be achieved where it may be different than some stakeholders expect.
  • Items that may not seem significant but can cause issues if not understood.

As a project manager, you must judge what your stakeholders will view as too much detail. You also must consider not eliminating items that you think are valuable to minimize detail.


There you have it!

No one wants more documentation. That goes for the individual who must create and maintain it as well as the recipients who do not want yet another attachment to read. The value of the log is for the project manager to have a centralized location to capture items that may cause debate or slow progress or for those who are included to search for information on the project materials instead of hunting down the project manager. This can turn into a time-saver and worth a try it on your next endeavor!


Published on January 23, 2017.

Streamlining Project Communication: A Guide to Simplifying Technical Jargon in Reports

Reading a document and struggling to understand the information presented is a common experience, especially in specialized fields like Information Technology (IT). As a project management consultant specializing in IT reporting, I frequently encounter industry jargon from Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). My role is to ensure these reports are clear and comprehensible for their intended audience. This article discusses my approach to simplifying reports by eliminating technical jargon, providing real-life examples, and offering practical tools and resources.

In project management, reports are documents that record and convey information to a specific audience. Since reports are vital communication tools, it is crucial to adhere to specific guidelines to ensure effectiveness in communicating information. By following these criteria, project managers can support informed decision-making and promote overall project success.


  1. Clarity: Ensuring clarity in reports is paramount, as it allows readers to easily comprehend the information presented. To achieve this, I use simple language and avoid jargon or technical terms that may confuse readers. When introducing new ideas or concepts, I aim to present them in their simplest form. For example, in a software development project report, instead of writing “The system’s API will employ OAuth 2.0 protocol for authentication,” opt for a more accessible explanation, such as “The system will use a widely-accepted, secure method to confirm user identity.” In another instance, instead of using the term “bandwidth” to describe available resources, use “capacity” or “availability.
  2. Accuracy: Accurate and reliable data is the backbone of any effective report. Reports should draw information from credible sources and avoid biases or errors that may distort the information. For example, when discussing a construction project’s progress, rather than stating, “The construction is ahead of schedule,” provide specific, verifiable data: “The construction is 10% ahead of schedule, as confirmed by the project’s timeline and the latest site inspection.
  3. Relevance: Reports must be tailored to the intended audience, providing information that aligns with their needs and interests. If writing a report for a project’s executive sponsors for instance, focus on high-level insights, financial data, and overall progress. In contrast, a report for a project team may require more detailed information about individual tasks, deadlines, and technical challenges.
  4. Timeliness: Reports should be current and up to date, reflecting the most recent information available. For example, if submitting a monthly financial report for a project, ensure that the data included is from the most recent month and not outdated or incomplete figures. Staying current is essential for stakeholders to make informed decisions based on the latest information.
  5. Completeness: Comprehensive reports provide a thorough analysis of the presented data and information without omitting important details. For example, in a risk assessment report, include all identified risks, their potential impact on the project, and proposed mitigation strategies. Leaving out critical information could lead to uninformed decision-making and negatively impact project’s outcome.
  6. Consistency: Maintaining a consistent format and style in reports is essential for presenting information in a logical and organized manner. Consistency includes using the same headings, fonts, and colour schemes throughout the document. In addition, reports should have a clear structure, with sections divided into logical categories, such as background, objectives, methods, findings, and conclusions. This consistency enables readers to follow the report more easily and quickly locate specific information they seek.




In addition to the above guidelines, it is essential to consider the training and education of both report writers and the intended audience. Providing education on avoiding jargon and understanding the needs of different audiences can significantly improve report quality. Additionally, fostering collaboration between SMEs and report writers can facilitate the process of simplifying jargon and creating more accessible reports.

When writing reports, it is important to tailor the level of jargon or technical language to the audience’s expertise. For instance, when writing for experts in a particular field, some degree of technical language might be appropriate. However, for a more general audience, strive to use more accessible language.


To further streamline the report writing process, consider using tools and resources such as readability checkers, jargon busters, and style guides to ensure clarity and simplicity. These tools can assist in identifying complex language and suggest alternatives that are easier to understand.

Measuring the effectiveness of simplified reports is crucial to understanding the impact on reader comprehension which may support decision-making. Some methods for assessing the success of simplified reports may include reader feedback surveys, comprehension tests, or monitoring the outcomes of decisions made based on the reports.


In conclusion, reports play a crucial role in project communication, documenting and conveying vital information to stakeholders such as team members, management, clients, and investors. Detailed analysis of data, trends, and other relevant information in reports helps project managers make informed decisions and improve project performance. By simplifying jargon, providing training, fostering collaboration, and using available tools, project managers can create more effective reports that drive informed decision-making and overall project success.



Disagreements, Decision Making and the Evaporating Cloud

Is it too much to ask that decision makers make use of a collaborative goal and values-based conflict resolution approach to come to effective resolutions that satisfy needs?

Whether decisions are made in socio-political, organizational, and personal realms we all know that they are important. They direct action, resolve and cause disagreements. Decisions, if carried out, have physical, financial, emotional and relationship impacts.


Decisions are most likely to be “good” ones when disagreements or conflicts are well managed. The best decisions are made with clear objectivity and lead to achieving goals.

In my article Arguing to Learn and to Win I described a hybrid approach between arguing to learn (ATL) and arguing to win (ATW). This article focuses on ATL and how winning can emerge from learning through a collaborative approach like the Evaporating Cloud[1] (EC), one of the six thinking processes in Eliyahu Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints.


Fulfilling goals

The process is a technique designed to cut through disagreements by turning attention to fulfilling all parties’ goals rather than seeking only what each person wants.

In short, EC works on the premise that conflicts can be resolved when the parties get what they need. They satisfy their goals and values.

If the overarching goal is prosperity, peace, health, freedom, and happiness, decision makers must have an accurate sense of what each term means in concrete practical terms.


In the world of projects, goals like prosperity are expressed in terms of cost savings, revenue, and profit. Happiness is satisfying stakeholder expectations. Health is about the goal of sustaining the wellbeing of project performers to enable effective performance over time.

With an understanding of goals, we can identify relative weights. For example, are financial goals more important than employee health and wellbeing? Are the weights negotiable?


In projects it is much easier to attain consensus about goals than it is in social and political disagreements. Projects are objective focused and, assuming the project is a healthy one, the objectives align with organizational goals.

When there is no consensus on goals and values, we have a zero-sum game with winners and losers. Handling those is a subject for a future article on arguing to win.


The Evaporating Cloud (EC)

Now, back to the Evaporating Cloud (EC) technique and finding win-win resolution.

“If you really want to remove a cloud from your life, you do not make a big production out of it, you just relax and remove it from your thinking. That’s all there is to it.[6]




“The Evaporating Cloud tool is intended to similarly “vaporize” difficult problems by collaboratively resolving an underlying conflict. “[Goldratt teaches] that every problem is a conflict, and that conflicts arise because we create them by believing at least one erroneous assumption. Thus, simply by thinking about the assumptions that enforce the existence of a conflict, we should be able to resolve any conflict by evaporating it with the power of our thinking.[2]

Though the power of thinking has its limitations. To use a collaborative approach, at least one of the parties must step back to objectively perceive the cloud, and their place in it:

  • Emotions
  • Needs vs. Wants
  • Willingness to negotiate and collaborate to face the issues not the opponent.


Sharing Goals

In addition, the parties’ goals, values, and priorities must be compatible. For example, is getting elected or promoted more important than deciding on an optimal decision to serve the organization? Is your goal to have your design selected or to achieve project and organizational goals. Is one design demonstratively better than another? Is objectivity and telling the truth a shared value?

To answer these questions you must identify, understand, describe, and prioritize goals and values. What would happen if your goals weren’t met? Can you live with a negotiated compromise solution? Will the other parties agree to a solution that doesn’t give them everything they want?


Mutually exposing goals makes negotiation easier. Though, without open sharing it is still possible to use EC by subtly facilitating a discovery process. It is important to consider that sometimes openly sharing one’s goals may not be possible or desirable. There may be hidden agendas and motivations. Cultural norms may not support such openness. There are trust and personality issues.


Addressing the Wants

Knowing the goals, attention goes from Needs to Wants. Wants are about the way to achieve the goals and get what you need. For example, in projects a key goal is to satisfy stakeholders’ expectations. There are several ways to do that and there are often conflicting views on which is best.

If one way is as good as another, what does it matter which you choose? Flip a coin. Decision made. Can you and the others give up getting what you want if you get what you need? If one way is best, what makes it so? What are the criteria for deciding? Who will decide and how and when will they do it? Will they rely on emotional rhetoric, hierarchy, or analysis?



A collaborative approach makes resolving conflicts a game that you can both learn from and enjoy while you find an optimal resolution and promote healthy ongoing relationships.

Relationship health is an often-overlooked benefit of collaborative decision making. “Don’t burn bridges” is good advice. Winning is great but if you are not playing the long game, you are likely to have a Pyrrhic victory. You win but at a price that is so costly that victory is tantamount to defeat.


For example, you or your team win an argument by undermining and alienating another team that you must work with to implement the decision or collaborate on future projects. How will that affect the organization’s goals? You may think you will never see your opponents again, but you never know if you will encounter one of them in an interview for a job you have applied for.

Less likely to be overlooked is the benefit of finding an optimal solution, whether it is a blend of elements from alternatives or choosing a demonstrably more effective outcome. Of course, there is no guarantee. But if people commit to an analytical process, collective intelligence and multiple perspectives should result in higher quality decisions.


Taking It Home

Assess your personal approach to conflict resolution, disagreements, and decision making? Assess your team’s and organization’s approach? Is there room for improvement?

Share this article to start a conversation as the first step in adopting a collaborative approach and adapting it to your situation.


[1]There are many references for EC, Wikipedia is a good place to start for further information. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evaporating_Cloud
[2] Scheinkopf, Lisa J. Thinking for a change: Putting the TOC thinking processes to use. CRC Press, 2002.

Opportunity is Everywhere for Project Managers

The world is changing fast, and so is the future of project management. For new and established project professionals, the challenge to stay competitive and relevant in our ever-evolving work environment can be daunting – particularly in the face of constant disruption and economic uncertainty.


The good news is project talent is still in high demand. My organization, Project Management Institute (PMI), recently released its Global Project Management Job Trends for 2023 showing that – despite the disruption and economic uncertainty – this demand will only increase, presenting a strong opportunity for project professionals to advance their careers over the next decade. In fact, from now until 2030, 2.3 million people will be needed each year to fill open project management-oriented positions, according to PMI’s most recent Talent Gap report.


So, what will these positions look like, and how can you take advantage of these opportunities? Here are the sectors to watch for and ways you can upskill or reskill to prepare for your next career move:


Despite setbacks including the global pandemic, supply chain issues, and inflation, the construction industry continues to grow and expand, creating job openings for project professionals. The recent investment in U.S. infrastructure also provides a significant opportunity, with an estimated 17 million infrastructure-related jobs to be filled by 2031, many of those in construction and built areas.


If you are interested in beginning or advancing your career in construction, the opportunities are endless with projects touching telecom, power, water, and more. It’s important to note that this is a rapidly evolving industry, so you must develop relevant skills, including the mastery of digital tools like building information management and cutting-edge tech to allow virtual building tours before ground has been broken.


If you have at least three years of project experience in the construction field, the Construction Professional in Built Environment Projects (PMI-CP)™ can help you acquire skills like stakeholder communication and scope and risk management, using construction-specific context to prime you for future opportunities in the industry.


Consulting & ESG
While consulting was previously more aligned with late-career professionals to leverage their professional expertise, a career in consulting is now a space for all project professionals. Project management consultants are often brought in to implement organizational transformations, requiring them to keep pace with the latest developments in new technologies like AI and low-code or no-code tools. A successful career in consulting also requires proficiency in interpersonal skills, like communication and active listening – which PMI calls “power skills” – to provide the best possible guidance to employers and clients, solve pain points, and demonstrate value aligned with organizational goals.


With an increasing demand for organizations to invest in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices, this also presents a new path for project managers to build a career in ESG. Project professionals have the necessary tools and skillset that make them well-suited to manage complex, long-term projects that require implementation, stakeholder management, and designating and meeting KPIs.


Financial Services
With this sector rapidly moving toward a fintech future, project professionals have an opportunity for a career in financial services to help drive this industry’s digital revolution. Gaining knowledge of data privacy, legal and regulatory requirements, and consumer expectations is crucial as financial services companies look to balance the pursuit of profit with innovation to redefine industry services.   


Project professionals who achieve this balance will be invaluable to their teams, helping to vet and implement trends and technology to improve customer services and advance the business, while avoiding those which do not. Because working with data privacy and regulatory factors comes with a bit of inherent risk, the PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)® certification, for example, can help arm you with knowledge for industry success – from registering threats and risks to developing mitigation plans and customer solutions.




PMOs: The Project Management Office
For professionals eager to help a business ensure their various projects and programs create value, consider a career in a PMO, or project management office. In the last decade, the role of the PMO has evolved. They are increasingly focused on helping organizations adapt to innovative processes as they embrace new ways of working, while also ensuring capabilities – like data and technology – are maximized in the implementation process. This requires alignment with the processes and decision-making behind a company’s big-picture objectives.


To pursue a role in a PMO, seeking a PMO mentor is a good first step. You might consider joining a professional association, which offers opportunities to seek out mentors specific to your desired career path. Additionally, if you have experience leading projects, obtaining a globally-recognized certification like the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification can set you apart and prepare you to succeed and create value in a PMO.


Prepare for Your Next Career Move
For project professionals unsure of their preferred industry or area of focus, there are many ways to learn more about the different career paths available. Attending in-person or virtual events is one way to gain greater knowledge of trends and growth areas, with many free of charge. Events like the Virtual Experience Series 2023: PMXPO, for example, offer a chance for professionals to broaden their perspective on project management and connect with peers.


Additionally, membership within a professional organization like PMI® provides opportunities to network with other project professionals across industries and sectors, sharing best practices and career experiences – including tips and strategies to upskill and reskill. PMI also offers local chapter membership, which allows you to take the power of networking further with those in your own community – this can be a great way to also volunteer in chapter activities and even learn about new job openings.


Early-stage project professionals should consider PMI’s free, 45-minute introductory KICKOFF™ course, or its Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® certification, a highly regarded certification that serves as a crucial stepping-stone on your path to career advancement. Professionals at all levels might also consider exploring PMI’s Career Navigator tool, which provides a personalized action plans to help users meet their goals.


Despite the uncertain economic forecast, project talent will be in demand for years to come. And fortunately for project professionals, career paths are not limited to one industry; opportunity exists across many sectors. And while the specific skillsets required of project managers somewhat varies across industries, knowledge and understanding of cutting-edge trends and technology, a mastery of power skills, a commitment to upskilling and reskilling, and connecting with a professional network are of the utmost importance. Opportunity is everywhere for project professionals; be ready when it knocks.