Does HR exist to make people angry?

angry phil 2This is the second post on the emotion of anger and both form part of a longer series about emotions. The last one; ‘Anger is one of my closest friends’ gives you an outline to the possible constructive applications of this powerful emotion and if you haven’t read it yet, here’s the link.

For this post, we are brining it back to my profession, HR and Learning and Development. This is partly because it is inspired by a blog post from Neil Morrison titled ‘Let it all Out’ where he said that being in HR and being shouted at are synonymous with each other and it is something that will just happen.

I want to come at it from a different perspective and that is… to what extent do we actually create that anger? It may be by accident or that it occurs at an unconscious level, at the same time, there is an awful lot of what HR do and how HR does it, that pre-disposes itself to generate an angry response.

In my last post I said that the universal trigger for anger is; interference with a goal.

When people come to us they have a goal in mind. That maybe to:

“Get their salary sorted so they can pay their bills.”
“Find out how to ‘get rid’ of an individual that is damaging team or department performance.”
“Ask you to create and run a training programme that they believe will be amazing.”
“Find or create this person a job because they’ve worked with them before and they’re ‘great’.”

It is at this point I want to reference another of Neil’s blogs that was called ‘Process this’ where he discussed possible responses to requests that are either slaves to policy/process or ones that build relationships and collaboration. I like the responses he suggested so have copied them below (with permission):

“It would set a precedent”

“It isn’t as simple as that”

“I can’t do that”

“The system doesn’t work like that”

“The policy is….”

“You need to complete this form”

“Have a look at the process/policy”

“We can’t make an exception”

I want to add a few too

“Wait, we need to do a training needs analysis first.”

“You will need to submit a business case that details the organisational benefits along with the expected return on investment.”

“Remember, we use the 70:20:10 model that tells us that the majority of learning is done on the job so we need to take that into account before we can move forwards.”

“Oh, sorry, I can’t help with that you need to go and talk to someone from one of our ‘centres of excellence’.”

What’s the theme?

Each and every single one of those responses (and I am sure you can think of others too) is putting at least one barrier (which means a form of interference) between the goal that the person wants to achieve. You are correct, you are brining into the equation the universal trigger for anger. This may be different to what you wanted and it will happen all the same.

Let me be clear, it is highly likely that we are doing it for the right reasons and/or because that is how we think it is best done.

Let me be clear again, the person you are speaking to, at that moment, does not care about your reasons or intentions. For that moment (and maybe a little while after) you represent a barrier to be overcome. One way to do that, is to shout, which is where Neil’s post started.

There are other ways; going over your head, ignoring you and doing it anyway, asking someone else, bringing in an external party to do it instead of you to name just a few.

I now run the risk of adding an extra layer of complexity and will go on and do that anyway. There is a chance that as well our actions triggering anger in others, it can be triggered is ourselves too.

Here’s a cartoon to explain what I mean.
HR Angry cartoon
As mentioned above, it is likely that if you are saying ‘no’ (or some variation on that theme) it is for (what you deem to be) a good reason or positive intention. It may also be that anger is triggered in you as what you a being asked for, or to do is against what you want to have as a goal for the organisation (fairness).

Then, we have a situation where two people may both be experiencing anger and for different reasons. What is the impact on the communication likely to be?

How often do you trigger anger in others?
When is anger triggered in you?
How aware are you of either or both of these?
What proactive steps do you take to manage this?

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