BL&T No. 108: Meet Emotion With Emotion, Wait To Be Rational

Company Culture

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


“Emotions and intellect work inversely. When emotions go up, intellect goes down."

From “The Road Less Stupid: Advice from the Chairman of the Board" by Keith J. Cunningham [Book]


Sending my newsletter early today since I’ll be on a plane this evening. Dana and I are headed home later today after a long weekend in Dallas, TX. We came in last week to celebrate the marriage of our friends Max and Eryn. I met Max many years ago when he joined Barrel as a developer. He's since moved on but we've stayed close. It's been a great several days exploring Dallas with friends new and old. We’re ending the trip with a group visit to the Texas State Fair this afternoon.

Barrel Co-Founder/CEO Peter shared this video with the partners and me a couple of weeks ago that got me thinking about feedback and communication in an agency setting. It's a clip from an interview with author Simon Sinek, challenging the belief that we must be honest at the moment, no matter what. He starts by sharing an experience with a friend:

  • He goes to see her in a play, and while he loves seeing her on stage, he thinks the show is awful.
  • When she comes out after the show, she's still on a high and asks him for his opinion.
  • He doesn't want to lie, but he also doesn't want to bring her down. He responds (paraphrasing): "Oh my god, I'm so proud of you. It was so amazing to see you on stage and watch you do your thing. It brought me so much joy to see you on stage." He doesn't lie, but he doesn't exactly answer her question.
  • The next day, he catches up with her when her energy has died down. He shares his feedback on the play, and they have a productive conversation.

Sinek shares that when we're hoping to have a rational conversation, we should be mindful of the other person's emotional state. If the timing doesn't feel right, don't lie, but wait. In short, meet emotional situations with an emotional response, rational with rational.

In the past, I've often operated with the notion that quick, candid feedback is most effective as both a manager and an individual contributor. With recent events fresh on our minds, it feels as though real-time feedback will make it easier for everyone to connect the dots. However, Sinek's advice inspired me to think about situations where that may not be the way to go.

Here are a few that came to mind. For each, I'll share a situation and what it might look like to apply the "emotion meets emotion, rational meets rational" concept vs. sharing what's on our minds.

Situation #1

A design manager is unhappy with a junior designer's first presentation. They didn't cover all the talking points they agreed to before the meeting. The design manager and junior designer meet to review the next steps afterward. The junior designer shares how thrilled they are to have their first presentation under their belt.

  • Design Manager: "It must feel good to have that behind you! I am proud of you for putting in the work to present today."
  • Follow-Up: The design manager schedules a focused feedback call to talk through opportunity areas and suggestions for improvement

Situation #2

A software engineer was up all night to meet a morning deadline. The next day, they meet with the project manager to review their work. The project manager is frustrated that the software engineer cut it so close, especially since they aligned on the timeline ahead of time. The software engineer comes to the meeting looking exhausted.

  • Project Manager: "I appreciate you putting in the time last night to meet today's deadline, knowing how important it is to the client."
  • Follow-Up: The project manager schedules a 30-minute one-on-one for the next day to hear how the software engineer thinks the project has gone and debrief on lessons learned

Situation #3

A client misses a feedback deadline for the third time, further shortening the timeline for the agency team to complete the project. The account lead is concerned about meeting the deadline with the client's lateness and disorganization. When the account lead sends a reminder for feedback, the client responds, asking to discuss how unhappy they are with the work so far. They get on a call.

  • Account Lead: "I understand you are unhappy with our work. It is important to us that you are excited about the final result of our collaboration."
  • Follow-Up: The account lead gathers notes from the client for the team to address the feedback. After presenting the revised work, they have a call to discuss ways of working and align on a timeline that both teams can commit to upholding.

There's a nuance to Sinek's concept that I think is worth mentioning: the relationship between the parties involved. In some cases, honesty at the moment might be okay. I believe it depends on the history of the relationship and any current agreements about how the two parties interact.

I look forward to keeping this concept top of mind and thinking more about how it applies in and out of Barrel.

Thought Starter

In what situations would it have been more effective to delay my feedback for a rational conversation?

Join My Newsletter

Every Monday, I share weekly themes and progress in running an agency business/team and doing my best to live a good life. Details