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Why “Out of the Blue”​ is Not Real

I was having lunch with a colleague the other day, and she was sharing some difficulties she was experiencing with an employee who recently and suddenly became more antagonistic. Leadership was a primary target, but it was also causing friction within the team.

And it all just started happening out of the blue (seemingly from nowhere).

Aha! My first clue. Without realizing it, she self-identified the elephant in her boardroom. His name was “Blue” and he came out of nowhere.

To speak candidly – when it comes to people problems things are sneaky, and are not ever sudden. “Out of the blue” is not relative to human emotion. My colleague was experiencing her employee finally react to a string of compounded and pent-up emotions.

Here’s the scoop I got:

  1. Outward and loud frustration if an idea they expressed was not utilized
  2. Perceiving potential changes in job role as backstabbing (the plan was a promotion)
  3. Hostility toward other team members during meetings or calls
  4. Decline in quality of work for the last two months
  5. Blame toward other team members when their own work was not produced on time

And all (seemingly) out of nowhere. She was super confused. Her perception was that this employee was being stubborn, inconsiderate, unappreciative, and unreliable. She was considering whether or not to keep this employee on board… I get all of that. And I also know that it is very atypical for a person to be all of those things if you didn’t see signs before (unless they’re a professional con artist). So I started asking lots of questions – I can’t help myself. Based on her responses we were able to uncover the underlying problems and accurately label what was going on.

Here’s what was really happening underneath the surface (I will reflect in the same numeric order to the problems above):

  1. This employee was previously a business owner themselves and their business unfortunately failed. This person has an entrepreneurial mind. If they lack a platform in which to express their ideas they are going to feel undervalued. They also need to thoroughly understand the ‘why’ behind an idea not being adopted or resentment will grow.
  2. This person was used to being in charge of themselves. They will thrive better if they are involved in the stages of decision making that have an effect on them directly. They also need autonomy. If they are not able to speak their mind and be a part of the decisions they will feel betrayed.
  3. This sense of betrayal will turn into paranoia. What else are people keeping from them? What else is happening behind their back? They need transparency and clarity in order to trust and feel secure.
  4. Anyone in a situation where they feel distrust, undervalued, betrayed, and powerless will become disengaged. They either will not have the desire or capacity to continue to do their work well.
  5. An entrepreneur is a person who achieves. They want really big, and when they don’t attain what they set out to do, a strong sense of shame and embarrassment can develop. An entrepreneur who is no longer at the top of the chain will question their self-efficacy. And then a spiral effect develops because they already feel poorly, and now their quality of work is suffering – as a defense mechanism, sometimes our brains play tricks on us and tempt us to blame others for our problems.

So none of this was really “out of the blue.” I explained all of this to my colleague, and gave her some tools to try. One week later I checked in. Being an amazing leader, this colleague implemented some of these tools right away, and things were already getting better. Boom-shaka-laka!

Your two big takeaways are these:

  1. Curiosity will help end confusion. Ask questions. Become a detective for what is underneath the surface.
  2. Seek to understand the other person’s point of view. It’s the truth to them even if you don’t agree.
  3. Nothing emotional is really ever “out of the blue.”

Question: I see these kinds of problems commonly occur during a Merger or Acquisition because they often become a melting pot of unfamiliar and unstable. Where else can you see this type of scenario being common?


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