on September 9th, 2014

Dear Colleagues,

We all get annoyed on occasion. One would think that working in an engineering environment means that everyone is super rational, objective and left brain-oriented. However irritations are quite normal and people can get quite emotional – as you have no doubt experienced.

Dog Fights are Normal
Disagreements and fights are quite normal in an engineering workplace. People are often under stress to deliver to tight deadlines with limited budgets. Staff are often poorly trained or placed in the wrong job. There is an enormous amount of frustration (and disappointment) in completing a project. Not everyone is considered in decisions resulting in defects in the final project outcomes. And the work often comes in peaks and troughs with unpredictable demands made on people and equipment.

This often results in dog fights and enormous anger where people are specifically targeted with abuse. This is worsened by the use of the one-dimensional email where everyone is copied into an angry message with rapidly expanding ripples of discontent affecting the entire organisation (and often sucking in suppliers, partners and clients).

My experience with people (apart from the very rare axe murderer or serial killer) is that they are normally very reasonable and want to do the right thing. But we all suffer lapses of judgement, are decidedly not perfect and have to work objectively in a less than ideal environment.

What is a Problem?
Problems should always be isolated from people. It is easy to be judgemental and critical about other people. This is the stuff of life. But shouting and screaming about a particular issue generally doesn’t help the overall situation much. The situation is often made ferociously worse by use of  email.

The challenge is to focus on the particular problem; define it objectively; get acknowledgement from others it is a problem and then mutually work to resolve it in a logical unemotional way.

And avoid the mass email approach to venting your fury.

When someone is shouting and emotionally agitated it is best to either respond calmly or walk away until things have settled down.  

When a major problem occurs (such as an upset in your process plant); the best way of resolving it is to carefully consider all the issues, consult widely and then systematically plod to a solution. There is no point in criticizing someone during this process.

Afterwards, it is worth carefully considering what has happened and whether a specific individual has caused the problem. If so, are they are in the most appropriate job to prevent this happening again in the future? It is critical to face up to reality to fix the problem as you can be guaranteed it will come back to bite you again in the future if you don’t deal with the causes now. But it is vital that this is done in a calm and reasoned way.

As Confucius remarked over 2000 years ago: When anger rises, think of the consequences.

Yours in engineering learning,


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