Making the Impossible Possible: (1) Taming the Herd

Dagmar   Cole
Dagmar Cole Business Analyst / Project Manager, Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Dagmar Cole

The meeting was arduous, a week spent reviewing processes and business rule identification for a new application. One stakeholder identified a business rule; a second stakeholder immediately retorted this business rule violated HER business rules. After some heated discussion, she banged her fist on the table and shouted, "This is IMPOSSIBLE!"

Conflicting rules are a common occurrence for a Business Analyst (BA). This is the first of a three-part series to guide the BA in the art of making the impossible possible. Part 1 will discuss how to get the team emotionally prepared to tackle the task. Part 2 provides a process for solving the impossible, and Part 3 guides how and what to document.

When one wildebeest becomes frightened, it runs. The entire herd mimics this action, resulting in a stampede, often with disastrous results. People experience the same behavior. When one person becomes frustrated or angry, this feeling spreads throughout the team faster than the flu. Individuals unconsciously mirror each other's body language, triggering the same emotional neurons resulting in "emotional contagion."[1] Just as fear spreads throughout the wildebeest herd, negativity spreads throughout the team.

Intentional change theory[2] identifies two separate physical states linked to emotions: The Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) and the Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA).[3] In PEA, the parasympathetic system releases hormones, calming individuals, who become relaxed, cooperative, and creative. During NEA, the sympathetic nervous system triggers an "amygdala hijack,"[4] flooding the body with "fight or flight" hormones, increasing stress and shutting down logical thinking. Attempting to work through a complex problem with a team in NEA will have the same result as the running wildebeests: catastrophe!

The BA moves the team to PEA by:

  1. Being aware. Monitor the group's behavior. Rapid breathing and quick speech are indicators the individual is descending into NEA.

  2. Pausing. Take control of the conversation; pause; slow down your speech. If possible, take a break or reschedule to allow the team to recover from the flood of stress hormones.

  3. Projecting positivity. Smile. This expression triggers calming hormones and others will mimic your positive actions. In addition:

    1. Use positive words. Words set the tone; avoid using negative words such as 'problem' and use a positive or neutral term such as 'opportunity' or 'task'.

    2. Revisit the shared vision. Be a cheerleader; remind the team of the future benefits.

    3. Use humor. I remind the team of a funny situation we experienced together.

Laughter really is the best medicine!

Now that the team is in PEA, they are ready for the next installment — Making the Impossible Possible: Solving the Gordian Knot.


[1] E. Hatfield, J. T. Cacioppo, & R. L. Rapson, "Emotional contagion," Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 2 Issue 3 (1993), pp. 96–99.

[2] Anita Howard, "Positive and negative emotional attractors and intentional change," Journal of Management Development, Vol. 25 Issue 7 (2006), pp. 657–670.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books (1995).

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Standard citation for this article:

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Dagmar Cole, "Making the Impossible Possible: (1) Taming the Herd" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 20, No. 4, (Apr. 2019)

About our Contributor:

Dagmar   Cole
Dagmar Cole Business Analyst / Project Manager,

Dagmar Cole has over twenty years of experience working in all facets of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). Her interest in applying quantitative management techniques to software began at George Mason University. While majoring in Decision Science, she published a paper on Software Quality Assurance. Later, she published her master's thesis in strategic information systems planning at Marymount University.

As a business analyst and project manager, Dagmar continues her quest to apply quantitative techniques to the SDLC. She is an active member of the Fort Worth Chapter of IIBA and was a speaker at the IIBA BBC 2015 conference. She also has extensive training in conflict resolution and is returning to the IIBA BBC conference in 2016 to discuss conflict resolution.

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