Do you have to be a people person to be a product manager?

I’m a marketing manager at my company with about 2 years of experience, I’m thinking of eventually transitioning into product management later in my career since I don’t see myself progressing into a more tech intensive role.

The main problem though is that I struggle with making deep connections with people outside work, but I can work with anyone really well and I don’t mind arguing with people and talking for long periods of time in meetings.

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You need to be able to empathize. If you can’t, you’ll find the job difficult. It’s critical.

Not sure if that fits into your definition of people person.

Less critical things like being able to talk to users or their representatives, being able to give a good elevator pitch, presenting skills, being able to ELI5, being able to wrangle and keep the focus of a few engineers. These make being a PM easier for sure. But you can learn or not be naturally great at them and still get by.

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@LawrenceMartin, do you have any tips for empathizing with people? I’m good at empathizing on a user level which I already do as a front-end dev. But I’m someone who has mild social anxiety so I’m always worried if I said something awkward/hurtful because of my natural tendency to be very blunt and straightforward.

I can give good speeches most of the time (unless I’m feeling really down) but I’m often bad at storytelling. I can repeat the same speech though multiple times and don’t get irritated that much when I have to explain myself to people over and over again.

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Ironically, I find myself to be blunter to people in my close circle but more diplomatic to people outside of my circle so “it just works”. To me, this is a lifelong learning process. To quicken this process, read “How To Win Friends & Influence People.” A very excellent ELI5 book on how to mentally and physically prepare for meeting with people, being contagiously positive, and making the most out of small talk.

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Literally just imagine “If I were this person, how would I think or feel about, or react to this situation?”

In order to empathize properly as a PM, you can never regard any motivation as wrong or illegitimate or mistaken. Imagine having this motivation and then work from there.

If your user wants to microwave their phone or use their keyboard upside down, you can’t just scoff and move on, you have to think through why and how you might solve that problem for them.

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Take the time after interactions to think about what each person may have been feeling. Reflect. With time and practice you’ll notice patterns in how people act and what they may have been feeling. Then you’ll be able to adapt to this on the fly. Spend time exploring their background and motivations. Get to know them.

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If you can manage superiors’ expectations, you’re at least a quarter of the way there.

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You need to be able to emphasize, influence, persuade, motivate, negotiate, present, represent, fight, say no, build trust and strong relationships and much more. You don’t need to be people’s person, but you need to understand people and be comfortable in social settings. More true for SaaS, less true for data only PM roles (e.g., mobile games).

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I think it depends on your definition of “people person.”

If you really mean “extroverted,” then no, you don’t need to be one by any means. I’m quite introverted but have done fine and work at a big company currently.

If you mean “can get along with people” or “can easily empathize with people” or “can talk to a lot of people at work every day and not be miserable” then, yes, I think you do need to have these qualities to be a successful PM. It’s a people (and business) oriented role. If you don’t have these qualities, you will struggle and likely be unhappy with your job at many companies.

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By your definition of people person, I would say it’s not required to be a product manager. That basically describes me (I’m extremely introverted and mildly shy) and I’ve been doing product for about 5 years. As long as you can emphasize with customers and stakeholders as well as work with them, you’re good. Networking might be the hard thing for you so keep an eye toward improving that skill set if you’re not already.

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Do you have tips for networking, from your experience? I struggle with this too.

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@ArnieSilvers, I’m still struggling myself -^ I can tell you that I’ve been trying to go to more meetups and talk to whomever I’m sitting next to. I’m being religious about adding co-workers and customers (I do B2B work) to my LinkedIn network. But I’m definitely still bad at it. I still don’t know the secret sauce to maintaining lots of casual relationships.

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You are describing me in every detail, and I’ve been PMing for years. It certainly isn’t a strength, but it’s surmountable.

I try hard to move outside my comfort zone (severe introvert) and most of the time it works well enough.

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You don’t need to be able to make “deep” connections…as everyone has said, you need to be able to empathize, gather information, test, and iterate…test and iterate…and to eat your own dog food.

I don’t know about your last statement. Product Management is not about arguing. That sounds very negative. You do need to be able to discuss and put your bias aside. You need to be able to collaborate…to take an idea and refine it. So, it’s not about arguing.

And you don’t mind talking for long periods of time in meetings? Why would you WANT to? People need to be more concise and speak LESS in meetings.

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So… I would say you do need to be a people person to some extent, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an extroverted life of the party time, like a stereotypical sales person.

Being willing to talk is a good start.

But shift your mindset from explaining to people vs. arguing with, and from talking to listening to people.

A PM needs to listen carefully and think deeply about what customers are saying to figure out the real problem. They need to articulate that problem clearly to their team, and devise a solution. Then, they need to take that solution and explain it clearly and in enough detail so that devs can build the solution, and then turn that technical solution back into plain language so you can explain it to other stakeholders.

Understanding people and making yourself understood are key people skills in PM work.

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