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The Role of Emotions on Projects

When carrying out Business Analysis, it is very tempting (and often considered advantageous) to highlight our objectivity.  As professionals looking ‘in’ on a business situation we are, it is said, able to see the ‘wood from the trees’ and work with our stakeholders to co-create solutions that they may not have found on their own.  Indeed, this is one of the major benefits of business analysis—we bring a fresh perspective, challenge and a range of techniques that help ensure our organisations meet the outcomes that they are desiring. Yet, whilst appropriate detachment and separation is useful, I am beginning to wonder if objectivity has its limits. 


Stressed businessperson with broken mechanism head screams
Image Credit © alphaspirit – #97226946

We talk a lot in the analysis community about stakeholders—how to identify them, how to engage them and how to understand their perspectives. We might even talk about how to ‘bring people on the journey’, and how to understand the reactions that people have to change.  You are probably familiar with at least one theoretical model that charts the typical emotional responses to change (e.g. ‘SARAH’).  Yet in talking this way, are we assuming that as practitioners we have no emotions? That, like Spock in Star Trek we somehow experience no sense of fear, excitement, joy or regret?


I am sure we are not trying to imply that at all, but I wonder whether it is useful for us to consider our own emotional ‘state’ more.  After all if we are going to engage with a situation, with the stakeholders, doesn’t that involve being engaging?  And whilst there are of course techniques that can help with this, if we ignore our own emotional state then we are going to likely find ourselves giving out incongruous messages.  Like the customer service agent who says “uhh, yeah, probably”, we risk sounding seem half-committed—and as crucial practitioners who lead-from-the-middle it is so important that we ‘walk the talk’.


A Different Perspective: “Change Changes the Changer Too”

The curious thing about change, it could be argued, is that it is often broader ranging that we think.  A project will often change a system, process, situation etc—but it may well also change or influence people’s attitudes, viewpoints or perspectives.  It also changes the changers.  Much in the same way that sawing into a tree trunk changes the tree, it also changes the saw (which becomes blunter) and changes the lumberjack doing the sawing (who may become fitter, more experienced—or perhaps bored or joyful depending on their perspectives).  If the lumberjack was a conservationist forced to chop down a tree to save others they might feel regret.  If they are just there to cash a pay-cheque they might live in a state of constant boredom-driven mediocrity.


Whilst these examples are deliberately playful, could it be possible that similar patterns apply to us, as practitioners within our own organisations?  There will be projects that we buy into, where we are advocating them from day one.  There will be others that excite us less.  There will be good days and there will be not so good days—there will also be downright difficult days and to deny anything else is unhelpful Pollyanna optimism.  Of course, what is important is how we deal with them and respond to the way that we feel.


In fact, individual throw-away interactions can change entire relationships.  Imagine a stakeholder exploding, swearing and breaking a glass.  I hope this never happens to you (or me!)—but if it does, you can be sure that (once they have had a chat with HR), that relationship has changed forever.  The situation we are engaging with has changed, and our emotional response to that situation will also have changed.  We might feel reluctant, or even nervous when we see them. Knowing this, acknowledging it and responding accordingly seems crucial.


So, perhaps by learning to engage with ourselves we become better at engaging with situations, and stakeholders.  And with this 360 degree engagement, perhaps we help co-create even more successful outcomes.


A massive thanks to everyone who responded to my Tweet about emotions and projects, which helped inspire this article… Twitter is such a useful platform… and to Debbie Clement-Large at Why Follow The Herd – our chance telephone conversation led me to finally finish this blog!

What are your views and perspectives on ‘emotion’ and its role in business analysis, do you have anything to add?  Do you have any stories or thoughts to add?   Please add a comment below, and let’s keep the conversation flowing! 

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About the author:

Adrian ReedAdrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.

To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit

4 thoughts on “The Role of Emotions on Projects”

  1. Interesting stuff Adrian. To me, it is the mix of objectivity and ability to handle and engage with people (including awareness of our own and other people’s emotional states) that makes an outstanding analyst. Managing state is one of the competencies I get people to self-assess and work with when they come to my facilitation skills workshops. It often surprises people at first but then they get it – why this is so important!

    1. Thanks Penny, the idea of ‘managing state’ is such an important one. In fact even *recognising* an emotional state is important…. I suppose it could be argued that we’re always in *some* kind of emotional state (e.g. ‘interested’, ‘bored’) and perhaps we only normally notice the extremes. So by increasing awareness of the ‘middle ground’ we see things in ourselves (and others) that help us understand the context of the situation we’re interested in. Or perhaps I’m over-analysing 🙂 Thanks again for the comment Penny, glad you found the article interesting.

  2. Good topic to write about, interesting and good viewpoints you put in there. I find stakehokders can relate a lot better, feel more comfortable when they feel that I can also be a bit emotional on cases. Giving the impression of being totally objective can give them a feeling that I don’t really care, which can lead to frustration on their side. I think it is very well possible to be emotional, and showing it to a certain extend (no screaming your head off though, or breaking out into tears and make sure not to take sides), but than demonstrating how to put emotions to the side and focus on the facts, for decision making or prioritising requirements ect.. I think it actually makes us human and authentic, and it also allows for empathy, which in my experience has always worked very well with all types of stakeholders.

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