Reactions to Problems

By Amber Wendover, Thinking People Consulting


I spent yesterday leading a workshop with a group of professionals, facilitating dialogue and providing tips and tools that would allow them to become “better” problem solvers. Our discussion led us to the topic of models, which are good and helpful and can be applied to several issues such as problem-solving, change, or influence.

Here’s where I brought in another perspective. What if there is something more important that must happen before you are able to implement a model? What if the key to success – the secret sauce per se – has very little to do with the model and more to do with your emotional reaction to triggers?

Working with people, I’ve found that when there is a problem, there is often a perceived negative emotion. The emotion can range from anxiety to fear, from shame to disappointment. Typically, the problems become top-of-mind, keeping us up at night and creating weight on our shoulders.

When we have this negative emotion, it causes a reaction within us. As individuals, we tend to react from a place of Controlling, Protecting or Complying (a side note – these Reactive Tendencies are part of the Leadership Circle Profile, which I have started applying to almost everything I do/teach). When we are too Reactive, we see our reactions become potential liabilities.

So, you start with a problem. You develop a negative emotion associated with that problem. And, that causes an overextended reaction. Have you ever felt the need to do something your way, unable to look at it from other perspectives (Controlling)? Or, become quiet in a conversation, not wanting to share your opinion because you felt like your voice wouldn’t be heard (Protecting)? Or, agreed to something that you didn’t really want to agree to, only to avoid a potentially bigger problem (Complying)? I imagine we can all relate to some aspect of these emotions.

If we spent more time exploring these reactions, we would find our personal “hot buttons.” Yet, what I am finding is that most people come across a problem and spend very little time thinking about their triggers and reactions. In fact, when we come across a problem we jump straight into “solve” mode. If we aren’t aware of our triggers, then we aren’t necessarily aware of our reactions. This lack of awareness can inadvertently make the initial problem even bigger.

Here is an example of what I mean:

Jennifer continued to be frustrated by Angela not completing her weekly report with accurate sales data. Angela would provide sales closed and pending sales but always failed to account for charge backs or deals that were expected to close but didn’t. Week over week, it appeared that Angela’s reports contained inaccurate data. Jennifer didn’t want misleading data to be shared with her manager, Jason. So, each week, when Angela would send her reports, Jennifer would ask a couple of clarifying questions and then change the reports, without talking to Angela about the changes. Angela’s reports would roll up with the rest of the team reports, which Jennifer would share with Jason during their 1:1. This was the norm for multiple months – each week, Jennifer controlling the report data by making changes and ensuring it was presented the right way. Unexpectedly, Jennifer was out of the office for two weeks, so Jason received the data directly from Jennifer’s team. When Jason reviewed these two weeks of reports, there was a huge problem. Jason saw a discrepancy with the numbers and it appeared that Angela was misrepresenting her numbers. When Jennifer returned to the office, Jason voiced his concerns about Angela and recommended to Jennifer that Angela be terminated for providing false data on the reports.

What are the problems presented in the above scenario? How did Jennifer’s Reactive behaviors escalate the problem? What could Jennifer have done differently early on to better support Angela? Is the problem really that Angela is misrepresenting her numbers as Jason assumes?

Sometimes, when we aren’t aware of our Reactive Tendencies – we run the risk of making a problem an even bigger problem.

But when you become more conscious about your decision making, these Tendencies, which emphasize caution over creating results, can be tempered by more Creative Competencies, which help you achieve results, bring out the best in others, and act with Integrity and Courageous Authenticity.


Amber Wendover, Thinking People Consulting brings 20 years of strategic and systems thinking, coaching, leadership, customer service and operations experience. Her clients often refer to her as the one who can connect the “humans to the business.” She is practiced in evaluating, developing and implementing a broad range of talent development solutions such as product training, competency development, leadership framework, talent review, succession planning and individual leadership coaching with a wide range of international clients.

Amber is actively working with the University of Washington Professional and Continuing Education Program as a content creator and instructor for a new certificate program, Women Entrepreneurial Leadership, and is a guest lecturer for their “HR Business Partner” class in the UW Human Resource Extension Program. With all this, her heart is with helping high school and college students increase their interpersonal awareness and prepare for their future.

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Amber Wendover

Author Amber Wendover

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