On Perceived Pain

On Wednesday, after being tortured by Attila the Dental Hygienist (who apparently uses “scared straight” tactics to get her patients to floss more), I got to experience stage I of my first crown. I am a huge chicken when it comes to mouth pain, so I approached this whole thing with the attitude of, well, a huge chicken. My teeth aren’t easily numbed, and I’ve had live nerves hit several times, so I had a valid fear of pain during the process.

During the drilling (yes, I will eventually get to how this pertains to leading geeks–have patience), I felt PAIN! So I lifted my left hand and made them stop. I panicked, thinking that THE NOVOCAINE DIDN’T WORK and I would be IN PAIN for the rest of the procedure. I asked them to wait until I could stop hyperventilating, since I didn’t want to inhale bits of filling and tooth. And, after I thought about it for a bit, I realized that the pain wasn’t in the tooth–it was in my jaw. Apparently, my jaw muscles were protesting the vigorous cleaning and the new procedure, so each time the dentist pressed down, I’d get a shooting pain through the joint. Once I realized that it wasn’t a live tooth nerve I was feeling, I could deal with the pain and continue with the procedure.

The reason I panicked was that I felt pain and I perceived that it came from the tooth itself, because that was where it had come from historically.

While I was leading geeks, I discovered a similar phenomenon: geeks would get annoyed by something, and assume the annoyance came from where it had come historically. Geeks would also assume that people who had been wrong in the past (consistently) were wrong in the future.

For example, if something came down from “on high” that the geeks disliked (e.g., we had to wait until 9:00 PM to reboot servers rather than doing it at 6:00 PM), they would assume it came from their least favorite “on high” folks, rather than someone they might like. Sometimes, this could be comical, like when one geek insisted that a ball that I had dropped was dropped by the HR Manager–even after I insisted that I was the one who dropped it!

My geeks would also assume that users who habitually “cried wolf” would never call with a valid problem. Sometimes, it took a bit of work on my part to make them realize that the user really had a problem with which we needed to deal.

As a leader, you must be aware of the perceived pain phenomenon–even in yourself–so that you can recognize it and deal with it. As with many things, the only way to deal with it is to see it and communicate about it.