Do you know how your customers feel? – Emotional Intelligence in project management

I was talking to a leader of an exceptional company known for quality and customer experience, when he voiced that those things just aren’t good enough.

“If I ask my project managers how a project is going, they can tell me with excruciating detail. But if I ask them how the client feels, they just stare at me.”

So often the people most intimately connected to your customers are disconnected from the emotions of those customers. This limits the service experience, and reduces the number of business development opportunities that can arise from that experience.

There’s something nearly universal at work here that personality assessments can help identify.


Personalities get categorized into four basic types by DiSC®. The four personality types are:

  • Dominant – Emphasizing results, bottom lines, and confidence
  • Influential – Emphasizing influence, persuasion, openness, and relationships
  • Steady – Emphasizing cooperation, sincerity, and dependability
  • Conscientious – Emphasizing quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency


Most project managers are Conscientious personalities. They eat information for breakfast and herd details like a cattle rancher. They manage minutia through processes, which they use with relentless consistency. If they didn’t, your projects would fall apart.

On the flip side, they’re private, logical, skeptical, and unlikely to explore beyond the boundaries of what needs to get done. They view personal stuff as small-talk, a useless distraction from the job at hand.

In the advertising world, client connections are maintained through a role called the Account Rep. It’s the rep’s job to know customers inside and out. Do they golf? Are they family-focused? Do they prefer lunch meetings to a drink after hours? What’s going on for them now versus last year, and what prize do they have their eye on? Account Reps tend to be Influential, and keep a finger on the pulse of client emotions.

Today’s team member needs to find bits of all of all four personality types inside themselves because customers demand more well-rounded service, not just from the team as a whole, but from each team member they interact meaningfully with.

The First Step

Awareness is the first step. DiSC Profiling is a great way to build that awareness. If your team members can understand themselves, adapting to someone else is going to be easier. And if they can understand what category others fall into, your team members can recognize what these other people value, interpret their words more accurately, and know what to change about their own communication style to speak in ways those listen to best.

The Second Step

The second step is increasing your team members’ Emotional Intelligence (EI). The good news about EI is that, even if their personality types don’t emphasize empathy or emotional understanding, they can still consciously grow these abilities. It may be slow and clumsy at first, but just by getting into the habit of asking themselves a series of questions around specific client interactions, your team members can start to recognize how clients are feeling, and this information can inform how your team members lead future interactions. These questions can include:

  • What situation are they in right now?
  • What are they saying about their situation right now?
  • How does that situation compare with what they want right now?
  • How would I feel if I were them?
  • Are they confident or scared, or somewhere in between?
  • Are they upset or satisfied, or somewhere in between?

By asking these questions during interactions, your team members can connect more meaningfully with your clients, communicating that they care, and getting into their heads more effectively. This will not only improve the quality of the client-customer experience now, but will lay the foundation for inspiring more work in the future.

What do you think? As you consider your team members and how they interact with your clients, how would you assess their Emotional Intelligence? What would you consider their weaknesses, and what questions do you have for us about how you can help them compensate for those weakness? Share your thoughts and questions below!

Leave a Comment


+1 612.384.0763


New Release! Our new book Winning AEC Interviews is now available!

%d bloggers like this: