Jedi Mind Tricks for Urban Planning Leaders

This post is not about how to deceive others in getting your new transit line, road widening, or bike lane. This post is how to change YOUR OWN mindset to be more effective in accomplishing your goals and contributing to your community.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

-Marcus Aurelius

Be curious, not furious. When you meet opposition from the public, elected officials, or engineers, be aware of the emotions that come up and switch your mindset from being upset, to genuinely curious about why that person is opposing your initiative, project, or idea. Sometimes you may just be misinterpreting what the other person is saying and clarification can help. You may even find out you both are saying the same thing, just using different language! Other times they may actually be opposing it and it’s critical you understanding why because it is an opportunity for your initiative, project, or plan to evolve and improve. This takes powerful listening skills and thoughtful questions in order to really understand the person’s perception and understanding.

They’re calling your baby ugly. It can be extremely challenging to take critical feedback of our own project, plan, idea, or initiative. As Urban planning leaders, we put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into our projects and see it as our baby. We may have created it, put in hours to develop it, refined it, and started all over again to make it “perfect”. We get emotionally tied to its success (or failure) because we know that emotion creates motivation and progress. So when someone gives us critical, yet honest feedback, we may perceive it as a threat to our own ability, lack of understanding, or just downright cruel. Since this project is like our baby, we must protect it at all costs, and defend. However, if you can’t receive feedback in a constructive manner, learn from it, and respond constructively, then you don’t grow and your idea, project, or plan doesn’t improve.

Focus on the message, not the delivery. One strategy to better receive feedback is to focus on the message of the provider rather than the technique they provide it. For example, I was completing a slide deck for a bridge rehabilitation project to be presented to elected officials and I asked my boss for tips on effectively delivering material to elected officials. Instead of giving me general tips (what I was looking for) he dove into the details of the presentation and began providing specific feedback on specific words and content. At first, I was frustrated because he didn’t answer my question in a delivery I wanted, such as “here are the 5 general tips when presenting to elected officials”. However, I remembered to focus on the message he was sending, rather than focus on how he was delivering it, and realized he did gave me a general tip. Remove technical jargon from the presentation! When someone may seem to be upset when providing you feedback, try to really listen to what they are saying, rather than how they are saying it.

Check out my post 5 Tips to Brief Elected Officials on your Project for more info!

Focus on what you can control. I was recently introduced to Stoicism, a philosophy dating back to the 3rd century BC that focuses on self-control and to accept the world around, even if its painful. As a planner, it is difficult to know what will come next, and therefore uncertainty provides a challenging environment to know where to put your resources and time. Therefore, focus on improving and growing yourself, since this is the one thing you can control.

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