The Art of Sensitivity vs. the Science of Process

Posted: January 6, 2014 in Change
Tags: , , , , , ,




And the winner is… Both.

They are equally important to the objective. They are not, however, equal when it comes to which comes first. The Art of Sensitivity should always come first.

It’s similar to the old saying you only get one chance to make a first impression. Now that first impression is important but it’s also the ongoing impressions you make as you interact with your customer, especially when you are acting as a change agent.

People are extra sensitive when they are being asked to change. While there are varying degrees of sensitivity and defensiveness, they are always there.  You can preface it with as many non-blaming catch phrases as you want, they will still be sensitive. It’s a normal, natural behavior. And the cues they pick up on that may rankle their sensitivity can be subtle.

And they are watching you closely for any sign to be wary. Anything you say or do to them, to their bosses or to unrelated parties is fair game for inspection.

No matter how careful you are someone will put up their defenses. So how do you minimize that?

Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Check your ego at the door. Your customer already knows you’re there because you’re good at what you do. People can smell feelings of superiority for blocks. I know this is hard for engineers since it’s important for people to know you are good otherwise you can’t get work. But you tell their bosses that, not the people you are working with. If you have to fake not having a big ego, then at least do it with a genuine attempt. Otherwise faking it just comes across as condescension and we all know how helpful that is.


  • Put yourself in their shoes. This is age old advice. And sound. Try to remember the last time someone came into your world to “help” you. I’ve had consultants come into my world and start spewing their expertise at me like I was entirely ignorant. Did they actually think I was ignorant? Not sure. Didn’t matter. The fact they didn’t bother to get to know me and the situation before impressing my with their knowledge is irrelevant.  They were insensitive and uninterested in me or the situation. I don’t care how right they may have ended up being. They lost me. Seek to understand before being understood.


  • Don’t do things to your customers. Don’t tell them how “your” going to help fix things. Teach a man to fish. Because if they don’t understand they can’t change. And if they don’t change behaviors, you haven’t fixed anything. Educate them. They will recognize the difference. And if people are impatient about this approach (probably their bosses) then you need to educate them too.


Our mantra should be: Be sensitive. Observe. Understand.


  1. Daleyo says:

    People can smell feelings of superiority for blocks.

    I am envisioning a bunch of consultants sniffing each other’s butt’s!

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