The ScrumMaster’s Guide To Keeping Your Cool

December 10, 2012
keeping your cool

Photo courtesy of natalie lusier via Creative Commons license.

As ScrumMaster, you will face many difficult situations. Though Agile, and Scrum in particular, are wonderful frameworks in which to run a project, no tool or framework guarantees success. Because you deal with people, the variable that they introduce can stretch your patience. When that happens, everyone watches to see if you’re good at keeping your cool. In this post, we’ll discuss ways that the ScrumMaster can keep his cool and pilot his team through these treacherous waters.

For starters, just breathe. When we get wound up about a particular subject, it’s easy to go on a tirade. Just listen to people who do this – some of you may call it a rant. They talk fast, the pitch of their voice rises, and they get louder and louder. Whenever we’re faced with a challenge, adrenaline kicks in to help us power through that situation. Unfortunately, that’s not so good when we’re dealing with people in a professional environment. If you find yourself being dragged into a situation, pay attention to your breathing. Drawing deep, rhythmical breaths can help you clear your head and not respond so quickly.

Deal with conflict in person. Remember that 93% of the message in communication comes from tone, pitch, rate of speech, and nonverbal cues such as body language. Only 7% of the overall message is conveyed in words. I believe that a conflict which is resolved over email or text is never fully resolved because so much of the communication is lost.

Next, listen more than you talk. One of Stephen Covey’s seven habits is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” While you’re trying to get in your comments, you’re missing what the other party might be saying. Even if they’re being combative, stop and listen. By doing so, you exhibit great control and your professionalism naturally comes through. This gives you the upper hand in any negotiation – although it’s our nature to fight back and defend ourselves.

Always ask questions. This one also plays into the Covey habit given above. The more you seek information with good, targeted questions, the more time you’ll have to formulate your next step. One of the common characteristics of good leaders is their ability to ask good questions. This is true regardless of role, position, or industry – the ones that ask the best questions are always seen as thoughtful, probing, and even-keeled.

Consult with your team. The real talent on a Scrum project lies in the experience and abilities of the team. Present the issue to your Scrum team members. Together they may come up with innovative solutions that you alone may not have thought of. They will respect you for involving them in something that will affect them down the road. And in their discussions, you just might find the up and coming leaders on your team.

Offer several options for resolution. The old saying goes that there is always more than one way to skin a cat. Offer up creative solutions, even if they feel counterintuitive. If you demonstrate your willingness to be flexible and adaptable in a tough situation, then perhaps you’ll win the next one. Unless it’s life or death for the project if something isn’t done, be willing to give in sometime. Lose the battle in order to win the war.

Do you struggle with keeping your cool in tough situations? What other creative ideas do you have that demonstrates control under pressure? Maybe you have stories from your own projects that you’d like to share with our readers. Conflict is unavoidable – how you handle it will determine your effectiveness at leading great Scrum teams. And keeping your cool doesn’t require a trip to the Arctic either.



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