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Dealing with the feeling: The reaction you see may not represent the emotion underpinning it

  —  17/10/23

Bob was in his early 50s and had worked in planning and scheduling for more than 30 years.

Mia was Bob’s boss. And she was frustrated.

Mia had introduced a new, more modern process for recording plans and documents. A process that required scanning hard copy forms and filing them electronically in a new software system, rather than using old school filing cabinets.

Bob didn’t want a bar of it. His old process worked perfectly fine, thank you very much.

When Mia insisted the new process had to be followed, Bob resisted. And he expressed that resistance with anger.

When Mia spoke to me she was unsure of her next steps. “He is flat out refusing to do it,” she said. “Won’t even entertain the idea. Just gets angry, refuses and said if it’s worked for 30 years, it can work for plenty more. It’s getting to the stage where I’m going to have to give him a formal warning or start performance management, which seems ridiculous over such a trivial and simple process change.”

As I listened to Mia’s frustrations, a question emerged in my mind. “Have you tried showing him the new process rather than telling him about it, or writing it in an email?” I asked.

“Have you walked through the steps with him so he can see what’s involved? I’m wondering if his anger might be a cover to disguise his embarrassment that he doesn’t know how to use the scanner and he’s too proud to admit it or ask for help.”

Turns out, I’d guessed right.

Later that very day, Mia tapped Bob on the shoulder and said, “Come with me,” and then, without even suggesting he didn’t know how to use the scanner, she stepped Bob through the new process, showing him where to put the paper, which buttons to press, and how to then access the files on a computer and store them correctly.

The whole process took her about 15 minutes. And although Bob grumbled his way through it, he finally got it.

The next day he started using the scanner and following the process.

Bob’s anger hadn’t been because he hated the change at all. It was a cover for his real feeling of inadequacy and being left behind by changes in technology.

Be aware – the behaviour and reaction you may see in response to a change may not necessarily correspond with or represent the emotion that underpins it.

A bit of thinking, consideration of the underlying feeling, and adapting her approach to leading Bob through the change, meant Mia finally got the result she was after. Her small investment in time saved her a mountain of further angst continuing to deal with Bob’s anger and resistance.

Leah Mether is a communication and soft skills trainer obsessed with making the people part of leadership and work life easier.

With more than 15 years’ experience working with thousands of clients, and an acclaimed book to her name, Leah knows what it takes to communicate under pressure. Like you, she knows the challenge of conflict, personality clashes, and difficult conversations.

Leah is renowned for her practical, engaging, straight-shooting style. Utilising her Five Cs® model of communication, she helps leaders and teams shift from knowing to doing, and radically improve their effectiveness.

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