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When You’re a Threat

I’ve gotta tell you about the *funniest* thing that happened to me at work in 2021. I mean, in the whole entire year.

Let me set the stage:

My team was hired to help a group of scientists redesign their go-to graphs and, in fact, their entire PowerPoint template. Their main audience was other scientists so the bar isn’t usually very high in these cases but lemme tell ya, they needed help.

I wish I could show you what their slides looked like before, but I’ve gotta protect the innocent.

As we do in all design projects, we developed a handful of options for design directions and had a Zoom call to walk through and talk through the strengths and shortcomings of each possibility.

These folks were suuuuper drawn to the direction that included icons for each section of their talk.

Totally cool. Icons can be fun.

But then came the real work: Getting them to agree on each icon.

I say this with all the love and humor in my heart: Leave it to a group of scientists to totally overthink the meaning held in each icon choice.

Bless the hearts of all nerds, everywhere.

The Great Icon Debate led to a few more Zoom calls, where we’d decide on a finalist for some sections of the PowerPoint and, for others, they’d send me back to the icon ocean to fish for more options.

Third or fourth call that included icons on the agenda and lemme tell you what went down.

We’d been walking through some of the icon choices they needed to make for the first half of the call.

I wrapped up the deliberation by saying “ok why don’t we move on and you all can decide about these icons on your own and get back to me.”

And someone who had her camera off and thought she was muted yelled out “BECAUSE YOU’RE OBSESSED WITH FUCKING ICONS!”

On a work Zoom meeting. In front of 10 of her colleagues. Including her boss.

I couldn’t control my face.

Her colleague on the line said “What was that?”

And the sailor suddenly found the mute button. I can only imagine their sheer horror.

I AM STILL CHUCKLING ABOUT THIS. IT’S BEEN MONTHS.

Aside from being a hilariously human moment, there IS a business lesson in here.

It took me a second to see it because I had to catch WHO, exactly, had gaffed so well. It was the in-house graphic designer.

Now can you decipher what was going on?

I’ve witnessed this situation before (though this was the funniest instance, by far).

In the past, it ended up revealing that the unhappy staff person was not really frustrated with the topic at hand. More so, they were unsettled by the fact that they had the skills to do what I was doing and weren’t pleased that there was an outside consultant brought in.

Underneath that coulda been a turf / ego protection mechanism.

Or it coulda been that this person knows a lot more about managing an icon discussion than I do.

Or it’s possible the project made them feel like their skills aren’t where they should be and this, therefore, was a threat to their security.

It’s not really my place to find out what’s underneath. As the outsider, it’s my place to recognize that something deeper is going on and strategize on what to do about it.

I haven’t run into this situation that many times, but I can tell you that I tried:

  1. Partnering with the internal expert to come up with something even better
  2. Transitioning the project to the internal expert & staying on hand to be a resource
  3. Totally ignoring the problem

And I added a point to my Discovery Call Checklist to specifically ask about existing internal talent. Better to strategize how to handle them with my point of contact at the very beginning of the project instead of waiting until the Best Zoom Outburst of 2021 happens.

Ok, let’s trade. What’s the funniest business moment you had last year? I know you remember it. Write back and share. (It’ll stay between us.)