The Emotional Side of the Product Manager Role
Nicole Daines: "Yeah, as you're going through the day to day of your work, it's sometimes easy to get really focused on the tasks at hand. And it's hard sometimes to take a step back and see like the forest through the trees of what you have going on for many reasons. But you know, I think some of the contributors to stress and anxiousness are interacting with others, and sometimes when we have, like a positive interaction with somebody that can make your day. And sometimes when you have a stressful or a negative interaction with somebody, or hey, you know, that meeting didn't go well, or as well as I would like, that tends to stay with us throughout the course of the day."
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Intro (the phenomenal Sandra Segrest - if you need a voice actor, she's the one) 00:03
Welcome to Product Voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources to help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests, or to submit your product management question to be answered on our special q&a episodes. That's all at product voices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of Great Product Management.
Hello, and welcome to Product Voices. You know, product management is a great function, the product manager role can be fun, exhilarating, highly rewarding, and it can also be very difficult and a little crazy at times. There's so many people involved so many moving parts, so many decisions to be made. Frankly, it's quite difficult on us at times. So today we're going to talk about the emotional side of Product Management. And this is something I don't really think we talk about enough. So I'm excited to host this conversation. And to have my guest here to share her experiences and her insights. Nicole Daines is a proven product leader who believes that strong product management can only be as good as the relationships we create. While I totally agree with that, as a result of relationship building efforts, she's been able to deliver positive business outcomes throughout her 12 year product career, she's currently leading product at Rosie, a grocery ecommerce provider where she is standing up their product organization, you've probably seen Nicole also on Twitter, she is constantly putting out great insights through meaningful Twitter threads, on leadership skills, confidence, etc. So I'm really excited to have you here. Nicole, thank you so much for joining me
Thank you for having me, I'm looking forward to this.
So the day to day of a product manager can be quite stressful, as we've said, it's a job that doesn't always have clear indicators if we're doing a good job. And that's not easy to deal with, right, that can cause a person to be very stressed or anxious. So how have you learned to deal with that fact?
Yeah, you know, as you're going through the day to day, and it's great question, as you're going through the day to day of your work, it's sometimes easy to get, you know, like really focused on the tasks at hand. And it's hard sometimes to take a step back and see like the forest through the trees of what you have going on for many reasons. But you know, I think some of the contributors to stress and anxiousness are interacting with with others, and sometimes when we have, like a positive interaction with somebody that can make your day. And sometimes when you have a stressful or a negative interaction with somebody, or hey, you know, that meeting didn't go well, or as well as I would like, that tends to stay with us throughout the course of the day, you know. So there's, there's that whole aspect of it of, you know, maybe I should in a scheduling breaks on my calendar or something like that. Maybe I should, you know, sit down with myself and kind of understand why am I in a funk, right? Oh, you know, and start to interrogate that. Or, you know, on the flip side, maybe you're feeling that way, because, you know, you're kind of looking at this mountain of like, product work, and you're like, oh, gosh, you know, this is a hard thing to do, am I gonna be able to do it, and you start to feel like maybe I'm having impostor syndrome or something like, I don't know, if I can do it. And to that, I'd say, you know, if you've had like a series of maybe reps in the past, where you've done, you know, similar things, remember that, you know, you can handle these things, you can do hard things, that it's a hard job, really.
But in addition to that, like, just by, you know, you can cultivate that mindset. But in addition to that, you know, Wayne on your team, like for me, as an individual can contributor, I bring folks together and we, you know, rally around the problem, maybe I feel blocked on it. And like, I don't know, I've looked at this a few different ways. Start to you know, pull in some other folks, you know, they will help you kind of shape maybe the problem a little bit better for yourself, or, you know, help IT solutions, or at least get you unblocked and find a path forward. And now that I'm a director of product, you know, I personally can't nor should I be able to, you know, dive into every problem. I want to be able to empower my team to own their pieces, make the best choices they can. I want them to be able to make their own mistakes and learn from them and grow. And so just know like, if you're an individual contributor, your boss like they want you to try I and you know, seek feedback, try moving forward, maybe run your approach by them, get your get their thoughts on it.
And like for me, I love to be able to provide that kind of coaching and support to my team. And I'm in a more of a approval kind of role now, and I love to see my team grow. And so just know that you're not alone, you have other people that you can can lean on. And that want you to be successful. It does feel like we're on an island sometimes. So I do think that's tremendously valuable advice there that, you know, it's not, it's not just you lean on your team, in whatever ways you can.
So I think that's, that's really good. Good insights there. So one of the things that I find most intriguing, and frankly, sometimes the most difficult part of product management, is that there is a lot of ambiguity, we don't often have clear direction or straightforward, right and wrong answers, there's usually not, you know, a very clear direction that that is the perfect way to go. And then the other option is a ridiculous way to go. We don't deal in those kinds of absolutes, we have numerous ways that we could go and they could all be, you know, somewhat decent opportunities for us. So we wade through all this information, we have to use our judgment to find the best path forward. Well, that's not always easy for folks, right? Because some some people, especially early in their career, you know, they want to have clear direction, they want to have at least the ability to get to a right answer. And there's not always that right answer and product management. So how, you know, how have you dealt with this? What tips do you have for being as comfortable as possible with this ambiguity that we deal with?
Oh, yeah. Oh, gosh, as you were talking, I was just remembering times past of staring up that product mountain and not being sure. Right? Like, gosh, am I gonna come to the other side of this? And understand, like, am I gonna get like, and I've worked with, you know, team members, even recently, where they're like, can we just fast forward this part and get to the part where we know what to do? Like, all right, so in order to kind of deal with this, what I've started to do is create, like, a repeatable process for myself that I can, like, always follow. Because, and then try to have faith in that process.
So for example, kind of like at the outset of a thing, say, a stakeholder, you know, you hear, okay, you got to work on this problem, or you got to work on this solution, or whatever it is, you're like, okay, great, I gotta work on this thing. And so you got to go from like, figuring out like, alright, what is this thing? Why are they asking, like, what you're kind of getting into the why and, and then you kind of go from that to Alright, well, let me go like, talk to some more people. Let me look at some data, maybe I need to, like do some customer interviews or something in so what I found is by kind of writing out that process, and then following it, like multiple times, that allows me to like ground myself, within the context of this is the process I follow. And then I just happen to be at the early stages of this process. And I know and I have faith, that in myself and in the team, because we're doing it together often is, you know, once we follow that, we'll you know, we'll get to the other side of it. And we'll certainly have more clarity, like all the way at the end. But not only that, like, each meeting is an opportunity to, you know, peel back other layers of the onion. So you find that, you know, maybe you didn't, you know, what you didn't know, initially, maybe a week later, you know, at least a little bit more than you did that prior week, and et cetera, et cetera. So I found that that's helpful. And then, you know, taking a step back, or maybe a step further from that, it would be, you know, remembering for yourself that, hey, you know, I did this before. And I've been able to say you've done it now, at least once. I've been able to do it before I can apply this process again, and then and the next time and the next time and I'll probably get even better at it.
And getting additional reps will allow you to build the confidence in yourself and in your team, to enable yourself to be able to feel confident next time that you need to approach that, you know, that gives us a real concrete or at least a pseudo concrete environment in which to work which I think is part of the problem. That's what that's one of the reasons it's so difficult in product management. To work in that in our environment is because we don't know what's coming around the next corner.
Right, we don't always know what the next piece of data is gonna find or, you know, again, can't find that right or wrong answer. So, so putting a framework or a process around that something, whatever works for you and your team, I think that gives us a sense of security. And again, it sometimes there's this negative connotation to process, but I think that's a really great idea to just say, Look, this is what we're gonna do. And we know, along the process that at certain points, we're going to know more or no less.
And I think that's a really, really awesome way to think about that. Absolutely. Yeah. So you mentioned before, kind of the people side of things and working with people. Let's talk about the emotional side of stakeholder management, and really the human side, if you will, of, of that it's, it's, in my experience, one of the key determinants of happiness and satisfaction and not getting burned out. Really mental well, being in a role within a product team is having a positive environment with your teammates. And that may sound simple, but it's it, it really is important to have every one on the same page moving towards a common goal, and vision. And when the team is not in that mindset, you know, it's can be very, very difficult. Now, it's not that everybody's going to agree on everything, every moment of every day.
Right. But, you know, we still need to have this kind of helpful environment where everyone seems to be kind of generally moving towards the same thing and on the same page. But that's not always the case. Right? I mean, sometimes the team is not on the same page, and things get a little toxic. Tell me, tell me a little bit about that. Have you experienced that? Do you agree with that? And tell me about, you know, maybe how you navigate that dynamic?
Oh, gosh, yes, I've experienced this. Lots, lots and lots. Yeah. And when you have people bought in, and they're a fan of the direction, it's like, the wind is at your back, it's like, oh, great, everything's sunshine and roses, it's awesome. But when they're not the opposite is true. And you'll you'll start to experience that and maybe many interactions, maybe they're not on the same page with this one thing, but then that seems to, you know, catapult itself into maybe when you meet about them, meet with them. Another topic, maybe they're not on the same page there. And things just seem to kind of, like, Snowball from there. And so key to keep in mind in, in, in my view, and something that I've kind of learned the hard way over time is to invest that time in relationship building, you're not doing this work by yourself.
I mean, sure, there are some things you want to think through and you know, you want to prep for a meeting that you're might gonna have with somebody. But you really do need to lean into getting to know your stakeholders, I mean, product is such a glue kind of role, you know, when product is going well, then things seem to be like humming along. But when, when there's relationship issues, you know, it causes all sorts of negative downstream effects. And, and maybe you're not able to deliver on time, because you're not aligned on whatever requirement is, or maybe you have to, like, you know, redo some work, because you got it wrong the first time, or whatever it winds up being, I think we've all been there, I've been there. But yet, you're not doing this work, by yourself, lean into that relationship building, and particularly if you feel that you're more left brain or analytical. You know, I found you know, having coffee with people just kind of aligning on what their mutual goals are.
There's this awesome book called Leading Without Authority. And this book talks about partnering with others across the organization, understanding their goals, telling them your goals, and CO elevating together, you're working on these things, kind of as a combined unit. And together, you can get much further than you could have just if you tried to pursue something on your lonesome. And so I highly recommend partnering with other folks that, you know, they might even have different points of view, but similar goals, and then you'll be able to go further faster. And then when you're talking with folks with context, you know, what overarching items are true, you know, you can align on the company strategy, you can align maybe on the product strategy. And usually if there's some disagreement, it's because there's something at the very core, maybe that we're not aligned on. And so, maybe that's something that me and the other person can't, you know, reconcile ourselves so we might need to
You know, escalate, wait a little bit and get that strategic context from someone else. And I think that's perfectly okay. That gets you unblocked, and it gets you to be able to move forward once you have that answer. And then last on this, a lot of thoughts on this, is listen to your stakeholders, you know, they're, you know, let them know, they're heard. You know, they're not purposely Hopefully, they're not purposely trying to be a jerk on things, but, you know, maybe you think that in the moment, but you know, what, maybe they have a point, repeat back to them what they're saying, confirm their understanding probe for more, do confirm your own understanding, probe for more details. And, you know, this will benefit you, in the long run, these little pieces of emotional intelligence, will get you much further, much faster, and will ultimately earn you more credibility in the organization. Yeah, I think that's such great advice. And I fully believe in that last bit about, you know, folks want to do a good job, they want to be on the same page, right? Nobody, very rarely, at least, you know, are people going into it to be a contrarian to be a jerk, you know, and so, if we can dig in and find that commonality, and find what matters to them, you know, why are they why are we having these issues, and like you said, unblock yourself, I think that's a really, really good way to look at it. And again, there's just a positivity around that mindset. Not always easy, but But it's, it's a really important one.
So speaking of not always easy. The next thing I want to ask you about is, and this is just a part of it again, product management is not easy. It's fun. It's awesome. I love it, you love it, probably most of the people listening love it. But there's definitely, you know, a day depending on which day you catch us that we hate it. We think it's the dumbest thing we've ever done was to get into product. You know, hopefully, those are fleeting moments. And then we love it again soon. But let's talk about the reality. Right? It is a great profession, it is incredibly rewarding. But there are times when it is really difficult.
How do you deal with the times that not only is it oh, gosh, I'm just going through the motions, but maybe even you're, you're having a hard time thinking what the hell was I think and being in product? How do you? How do you deal with those times? How do you get yourself out of those?
Oh, gosh, yes, I have felt my share of those for sure, you know, or maybe you get some some piece of feedback, and it just sends you spiraling, you know, and you're like, oh, gosh, you know, I'm so embarrassed even to do and product. I don't know what I'm doing, you know, and then you kind of get this mental, you know, negative spiral. But, you know, it's, it's important now, and, you know, for me, like, what I've started to do is really tune into myself. So when I, you know, Amex in the moment, when I'm experiencing something, you know, I might, I might understand, like, okay, at the end of this meeting, I'm gonna go take a walk or, you know, clear my head a little bit and just have, just just think about something a little bit more, what's triggering me or what's really got my goat this time around, and try to just understand, like, what's going on, and in usually taking some of that time with myself, I usually get to the bottom of what's really bothering me. So I, you know, I'd recommend doing that. I think like sometimes when you're going from meeting to meeting to meeting and maybe your calendars just blacked, it's hard to actually take that time. But then you might find yourself not having the best interactions with people in subsequent meetings, if something is still kind of on your mind from earlier. And so if you can, you know, if you can take, take a break.
But if you if you can't, that I recommend, like, for future times, if you know, you're going to have a meeting with somebody that normally, you know, things just don't seem to go the way that you like, schedule time on your own calendar for that break, or for that time, to allow yourself that breathing room of, you know, I need to eat, I always need to take a break after I talk to so and so because somehow it doesn't go right and then if you don't need it, you don't need it, but at least you have that time. Then when you come back, you'll have more of a fresh perspective. You know, maybe some of the things you were feeling before won't feel as large as they were in the moment. Or maybe you'll have a plan of attack of okay, next time. I'm going to talk to you or I'm going to talk to this person and just, you know, try to try to get to the bottom of why we always kind of have this like disagreement.
For example, if that's the case, you know, I am really, really big believer in that advice in terms of trying to schedule scheduled time away, it's not always easy. And sometimes you have to be very intentional about it. And sometimes you have to, you know, you know, make concessions on it. But it's, it's so important for our mental health and for, ultimately to be as as good at the job as we can. So great advice there, and I love the the context of, you know, taking a step back, you may look at it differently, or at least have some more perspective or viewpoint. So I think that's really inspiring advice there.
One thing that's that I want to ask you about, and I've kind of thought about this a lot and, and haven't really, you know, researched it at all, but it's been an interesting point to me. One thing that that high achievers do, and I think most product managers probably fall into that category, they were high achievers in school or in university or in sports, if they played that, or whatever it was, they're just kind of competitive, High Achiever types of individuals. They tend to associate what what's happening in there work good and bad, with their self worth. So when things are going great, they, you know, think of themselves highly when things are not going so great at work, they tend to be down on themselves. And I may be projecting a little bit here. But I do think that I do think that that that a lot of folks in product and tech do that. You know, and to me, I think that can be very dangerous. I personally have had to work on that. And at various times in my life. So have you experienced that where kind of work, you know, embeds itself and your self worth good and bad? And if you have how have you dealt with that?
Oh, gosh, yeah, absolutely. I've dealt with that. Yeah, and there. And I think like you, there have been times where I've been better at this. And times when I've not been better at this, I think it's something that I continue to work on as well. So, you know, some of the things that I'm I've, I've found success in doing is setting healthy boundaries with work. So I personally, I work Eastern hours, even though I'm on Central Time. And so I have little post it notes for accountability to stop working, and shut down at 4:15pm. Again, Central, and then leave for the gym then at you know, 430 I'm trying to develop a new gym habit. So now I have like little accountability things. And I'm trying to kind of create a life for myself, trying to go live.
Generally trying to create, you know, healthy activities that I could do kind of outside of Twitter and outside of product, Twitter. Because that tends to be the other place that I spend a lot of time but yeah, generally just trying to have like, other things I could do. I'm also getting married next year. So I can think about wedding planning. You know, I have family that lives out of town. And so I can think about, oh, I should go visit them or, personally, I don't know about you. And I don't know if this is a thing about high achievers are not but I don't do well, with a ton of unstructured time, I you know, I don't really know what to do with myself. So I need to write things down and make goals for myself and the things I want to do or accomplish or achieve. And I think probably we all know, something like that about ourselves, whether it's, you know, unstructured time, or maybe it's something else for you or the people listening. And so try to like, based on kind of the things that light you up or things that you get excited about, create some space for that in your life and actually prioritize it. And I think that that will that will certainly help. And it will certainly help when times get tough to you know, when we're getting bad feedback, or whatever it is. It's, you know, let me let me take some time I can get that perspective. And when you come back, you'll be ready to go again.
Yeah, I think that's great advice. I'd love that, you know, just a personal story. So I'm a golfer and I played golf in when I was younger I played golf, competitive golf and golf in college, I was always an amateur and never turned pro or anything. But at that time in my life, that was my life. I was I was a golfer I was going to be a pro golfer I had no doubts about it. And I you know, every bad round made me a bad person. Right? I was a horrible person if I didn't make that putt. I mean, that was truly my mindset. And it was very unhealthy. You know, and I think a lot of athletes do that. But again, that's that's where I think we do the same thing in business. And so what I've done now as you know, an you know, an old career lady is I found myself falling into some of those same traps over my career, right if a product didn't do well or if a project didn't go well, I thought I was a bad person, you know, being dramatic for effect. But really, that's that's kind of how it comes, comes out in our worlds that are in our mind. So I've found a way to balance that. But I still fall into those traps. So I like, I like your advice. I think that's really important. Now when I'm on the golf course, if I miss a putt, I can say, Oh, well, I'll just go back to product Twitter, they like me. Or if I'm on product, Twitter, and nobody likes my stuff, then just go to the golf course and say, Okay, well, I'll just put this, you know, I'll just make this slide and I'll be happy. So, yeah, I, there you go. I think I made I think I need a therapist. But anyway, okay. So there you go. Love that. Love that advice. And I love your take on that.
So final question for you. You mentioned one of these already, with the book leading, without authority, which we will link to, but resources, what do you suggest? What have you found that have worked for you, as you've tried to, you know, learn more and improve in this area? And as your coaching product managers and others, you know, what resources yours or other people's resources? Have you found value in?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, first and foremost, I, once I joined product, Twitter, I feel like being dramatic for effect, like you, I feel like my life and product changed. Because there were so many other folks there that we're talking about the day to day, and the real life of a product manager. You know, I think there's so much great content out there about best practices or ideals, that you can go read about, you know, classic books, inspired, empowered, you know, Marty Kagan's work, you can read by, you know, Teresa Torres, Janet, best out, you know, there's, there's all these celebrity product, people that you can go out, you can follow, you can get their content, and all of that is wonderful.
But what was really helpful for me is when I joined product, Twitter, and I started to see how other people were processing the role. And some of the day to day things that, you know, challenges that they might have, I was able to, you know, weigh in, or at least, you know, comment on some of their things, I was able to post some of my own things, I have a thread on product discovery, I have a thread on introducing product in a traditional organization and some of the issues I had with that I have a thread on how to tackle big projects. And it's, you know, these aren't like, book worthy kinds of things. But you know, not only me, but you'll find lots of folks on Twitter, product, Twitter, you know, posting similar things. And not only are you learning from that, but you're also having a sense of affiliation of hey, I'm not alone. There are other folks out there. They're going through, they're doing this work, they're having good days, they're having tough days, oh, hey, they're trying to figure out a good roadmap, a new roadmap tool, oh, hey, they're trying to do this, Hey, I know something about that I can help them with this problem, you know, so you just feel like you're not alone, which I think is great. But I think most important, is there's a ton of content out there. And what's important, like best practices don't exist in a vacuum. And so you might hear about some new framework, and you're like, oh, great, I want to apply that in my in my environment. But it doesn't like work exactly right. Because things have to be adjusted, maybe to your context. And maybe your your team is used to going about something a certain way.
You know, maybe introduce change slowly, you know, hey, I learned about this thing, why don't we try it? What have you, not trying to like shake the world up, or boil the ocean? It just things to your context, and find some people that can help you feel? Feel good about yourself and where you are in product?
Yeah, I love that, I think. And we'll link to Nicole on Twitter, you can connect with her if you're not already connected. Well, we'll link to some of those threads that you mentioned as well. And I agree, I think I have loved to be part of, you know, product, Twitter, and a LinkedIn and some of the great communities out there, product makers product collective, there they go on and on. But there there are a handful of them that are really, really good. And, and to your point, it's about knowing that we're all striving to be the best we can. But there's no perfect scenario. There's no you know, in the game. Again, part of the reason why it's it's a difficult profession, but we're always on this journey of enlightenment and improvement, and everybody out there is on the same journey. So to have those folks to, you know, to talk to and to realize that we're not alone is a great point and a great way to wrap up this discussion.
So, Nicole Daines, thank you so much for joining me for sharing your wisdom and your inspiring insights for the audience.
Thank you for having me.
And thank you all for joining me on Product Voices. Hope to see on the next episode.
Outro (the phenomenal Sandra Segrest - if you need a voice actor, she's the one) 30:03
Thank you for listening to product voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website product voices.com And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.
Here’s a talk Nicole did for the Product Makers mini conference on the importance of relationship building for Product folks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQDK_eGdWV8&ab_channel=Productboard
(Her talk starts at the 01:02:20 mark )
Here’s Nicole's pinned twitter thread on what it’s like introducing product in a traditional org:
Doing hard things thread:
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