What Chess Boxing Can Teach You About Project Management?

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A woman in boxing gloves punching chess pieces.A friend who lives in Germany was trying to explain the concept of chess boxing to me the other day. Apparently it is a big sport over there and is starting to become more popular in other places now as well.

A match of chess boxing involves alternate rounds of chess and – you guessed it – boxing. It sounds like a random combination of sporting challenges at first but once I started thinking about it I got more interested in the subject. In fact, as I was lying in bed with my mind wandering vaguely I even managed to find a few connections between this brutal yet tactical sport and project management.

Switch Between Skills or End Up On the Floor

Let’s imagine that you are a keen chess player. As you slip on your gloves and move your gum shield into position you are thinking about whether it is time for your bishop to make an attacking move or whether you plan to use him as a decoy while your knight gallops forward. Suddenly your opponent’s fist hits you in the jaw and you are on the floor, meaning that you won’t get a chance to do anything with your bishop anyway. Nothing quite as dramatic or painful is likely to happen to you on your projects but it is an excellent demonstration of what can happen if you don’t switch from one skill to another at the right time. You need to show a lot of different abilities in the project management role and one of the keys is in knowing when to switch from, for example, meeting mode to problem solving mode. This is one of the aspects of the job which keeps it interesting and is likely to keep you on your toes as well.

Learn New Skills

When you think about it, the competitors in chess boxing have all made a conscious decision to improve their skills at some point. Some of them have said to themselves that being good at chess is all well and good but that it is time that they learned how to pummel people with their fists, while others have taken the opposite approach. As a project manager you will want to constantly learn new skills and this is a great approach to have in your career.

Stand Up to Varied Challenges

It must be tiring to fight off a sustained attack on your king only to have to then face a barrage of jabs and hooks. Having to face a varied and ever changing series of challenges is also one of the big problems you are likely to have to stand up to on a project. You might sort out some staffing issues only to find that you now have problems on the technical front or that your stakeholders aren’t happy with something. As far as I am concerned the variety in the job is one of its big attractions but this also means that the challenges have a lot of variety to them as well. If you can handle them then it will give you a great deal of satisfaction in the long run too.

Improve on Your Weak Areas

It won’t matter that you are a grandmaster at chess if you have a chin made of glass and end up whimpering whenever a few blows hit you on the head. This is one sport in which you need to have a decent approach to improving your weak areas if you want to succeed. The project world is similar in that you can’t afford to be weak in certain areas even if you are particularly strong in other. Of course, we all start off a new job with a number of weaknesses. This can’t be avoided but it is something you should look to rectify as soon as you possibly can. One of your first steps should be to identify the areas you need to work on in order to survive and prosper in this role. You certainly shouldn’t be ashamed of having issues with certain of the skills which this job requires. The time to feel embarrassed is when you have been in the role for a number of years and haven’t anything about learning the things you need to know. If you start looking at brushing up on these needs early on in your career then you can look forwards without any fear of what the future holds.

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Add Open Body Language to Your Project

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A project manager is standing in front of his team members with open body language.I don’t claim to be an expert on body language, although I do remember being given a course on it a number of years ago. However, I have been in enough meetings and spoken to enough different types of people to have an idea what someone is unconsciously telling me when we are face to face.

Body language which is negative or difficult to interpret can cause a lot of problems in your projects and it is something which you might not even be aware of. The following are a few of the best tips I have come across to help you turn this issue to your advantage instead of it being a problem.

Be Open and Welcoming

If you think about it you probably already know perfectly well when you are giving out an open, welcoming vibe and when you appear negative and hostile to others. This is particularly important in meetings and workshops but it is also a big factor to bear in mind when it comes to any sort of face to face dealings you might have with your stakeholders, your bosses, the business experts and your project team. The classic hostile look of crossed arms and defensive body position is something which you will definitely want to avoid, although it is a pose we can easily slip into without even realizing that we are doing it. There are a number of ways of opening up your body language in a welcoming way which will let others relax and see that you are open about bringing them into the piece of work. If you go online and check for body language tips you will find plenty of step by step guides and photos to help you achieve this quickly and simply.

Show Your Honest Intentions

Another danger with the body language you display on your projects is that you might appear to be attempting to hide the truth. Any body language expert will tell you about some of the nervous hand and eye movements which give away the fact that someone who is telling an untruth. However, if you are simply nervous about running the meeting or about some aspect of the work then you might make this kind of gesture without even being aware of it. While you are looking for details of how to appear to more open and welcoming to the people you deal with you should look at this aspect of body language as well. If you are being completely honest with the people you are dealing with then you won’t want some sort of misunderstanding to make think otherwise. Maintaining good eye contact is a find start here and while this can be difficult for some people to master consistently it is definitely something you need to be able to do at your meetings if you are going to come across as being as honest as you are.

Deal with Cultural Differences

One of the most fascinating parts of modern project work is the fact that it can put us in contact with colleagues and customers from all over the planet. This makes the job even more interesting than it would otherwise be but there is also a potential drawback. This is the fact that body language and hand signals are interpreted differently all over the world, so you could misunderstand people from other cultures and they could misunderstand you as well. The first example I can think of was when I had to talk to an Indian colleague to ask him to do me a favor. As I set about explaining what I needed done he began to shake his head in what I took to be a “no” gesture, which seemed really rude as I hadn’t even asked him to do anything yet.  I almost gave up on him at this point but I kept going and he agreed to do what I asked with no problems at all. It was only later that I discovered that Indians tend to shake their head from side to side when they are listening intently, which doesn’t mean to say that they are giving you a negative answer. When it comes to your own body language, you could easily be misinterpreted by people from other cultures if you do something as simple as make an “ok” sign or hold up a certain number of fingers. If you are going to be dealing with foreigners on your project then it makes sense to do a bit of research on the body language they use in their country.

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