From the Observation Deck: Don’t Let Emotion Overrule Intellect

Another January, another list of New Year’s resolutions. For me, that means another year of writing down promises to diet and exercise. I have absolutely no intellectual problem when it comes to understanding exactly what has to happen to achieve this goal. I know what to eat and drink: low carbs, high protein, low fat, low/no sugar, no alcohol, lots of water. I also know intellectually that exercise is a critical success factor: move more, push the heart rate, lift weights, and above all, be consistent.

Clearly, the intellect is not the challenge. So what is it? Emotions, habit, history, culture, and other “human” factors. All these also need to be considered when talking about making changes.

At this point you may be asking yourself what on earth does this have to do with contact centers? Contact center managers often kick off the year making resolutions and setting goals for the coming 12 months—so meeting objectives, handling change, and understanding the human factors involved have a lot to do with contact centers.

Contact center managers typically possess a great deal of knowledge about what it takes to effectively manage their centers. But this intelligence is often mated with a litany of reasons for being unable to achieve high levels of effective management. These reasons often have an emotional ring to them.

Take the planning process. A very high percentage of managers understand intellectually about the importance of the planning process, the impact that has on staffing, forecasting, scheduling, budgeting, and dealing with metrics. Yet too many managers fail to create proper plans. “We don’t have time,” they often say. “We are too busy putting out fires.”

“Putting out fires” is the emotional connection: Managers often feel important when putting out fires. If they don’t take time out for analysis, the fires will never stop burning, the embers lying in wait for the next combustible moment, and the rescuers feel rewarded for preventing a catastrophe. That is an emotional reward, one that can become quite addictive. By setting a goal to focus on conducting an arson investigation—in this case, reviewing the cause of the emergencies and working to prevent them–rather than a fire-fighting campaign, you’re putting intellect rather than emotion in the primary role. And the resulting intellectual reward can easily be as satisfying as an emotional one.

Another emotional obstacle to planning and evaluating is the fear that you may be part of the process that needs correcting. Many people, particularly those new to their management role, believe they are suppose to have all the answers, that making mistakes or having to change or adjust processes or approaches means a failure on their part. So they become emotionally attached to current methods and procedures, often supporting the very activity that is preventing the achievement of stated goals or objectives. In reality, you’re not going to be perceived as “weak” or “wrong” for altering a process that isn’t optimal, even if you originally created that process. But you may be perceived as such for stubbornly adhering to such a process.

Contact center managers today seem to absolutely know the importance of training and quality. Here again, though, we see that the intellectual knowledge is frequently sabotaged by emotion-based obstacles. We cancel training and overload front-line managers with “duties” and “projects” that prevent any genuine coaching from taking place because “we’ve always done it this way” or “we never seem t have enough downtime for training.”

This year it may be time to examine what is obstructing the path to achieving the goal of operating a high-performance, high-quality contact center. What are your management or organizational emotional obstacles? Take some time to really examine what you know intellectually to be true, and be bold about defining the changes that must take place.

This means more than stating, “We need to do more planning or training.” It means identifying the skills required to deliver on these initiatives and making certain those are the skills of your staff. It means drawing on commitment, will, and discipline to move away from former emotional attachments to management methods that allow your intellectual know-how to trump emotional obstacles.

This is not to say we ought to strive to be emotionless leaders. Quite the contrary: Applying the intellectual know-how to the infrastructure management of a contact center allows your emotional intelligence to be directed toward appropriate leadership activities such as developing your staff and pleasing your customers.

When it comes to achieving goals, you must identify and remove obstacles. Recognizing that some of those obstacles may be emotional allows a deeper and broader view into what it takes to successfully design an approach to your contact center future.

Kathleen M. Peterson is founder/chief vision officer of Bedford, NH-based PowerHouse Consulting (, which specializes in contact centers and telecommunications.

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