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The Oppressive BA

Do you excel in your field? In everyone’s eyes or your own? Be careful how you answer that.

Seriously though – we want to excel, we are in the position we are in most likely because we are good at what we do. We excelled and made advances and gained leadership because we were good at leading. We were analytical, could document requirements, could lead teams into battle and translate things the customer said.

Are we still there? How do we solve the hard issues? Task management, ego clashes and conflict management, collaboration issues, communication breakdowns and missed dates… what’s the coverage and follow-up? Are we oppressive when the going gets tough?

What is oppressive? Here are some descriptions and definitions of “oppressive” …

  • Weighing heavily on the mind or spirits; causing depression or discomfort
  • Suggests causing mental as well as physical strain
  • Implies extreme harshness or severity in what is imposed

Is a great leader oppressive? Probably not – at least not in my opinion. Are you an oppressive business analyst? Or do you just lean that way when the pressure is high and the project or a deliverable is on the line? Do you really want to be that way – do you really want to go there? Probably not. Here are five ways to improve, avoid or at least mitigate that behavior (and if you’re a project manager or other project team member who is being oppressive, this is also for you!)


Count to 10… seriously.

I realize this one sounds simple but thinking before we react – while it sounds easy is not really an easy thing to do. I know, I’ve got 6 little ones aged 5 through 11 and after 10 minutes of what seems like silence I can walk into the next room where they are playing and find anything from them all playing together nicely to 2 inches of water to curtains pulled down from the rods above the windows. How did they do that so quietly? Everything can be dried up, washed, and fixed… but that initial reaction is one I’m not often good at… and certainly not as good as my wife is at it! When the going gets tough on the project and there are issues to deal with, staying calm and organized in your response and action can be very difficult… but it is critical for leadership, respect and project success. Becoming frustrated, reacting oppressively, pointing fingers and assigning blame is no way to move forward as a team to right size the project ship.

Put yourself in their place.

Yes, transpose yourself to the project team or the team member with issues. See things from their point of view. Were you clear in your initial direction? The actual fault in any issue may be your own communication skills. Communication is Job One for every project leader – project manager, business analyst, team lead, etc. Poor communication, miscommunication, lack of follow-up to ensure understanding, poor listening, and unclear directions are the key ingredients to a communication issue bringing down a project. Is that what happened? Also, is your oppressive behavior going to be received well and responded to or will it further delay appropriate forward and productive action and response? Will it get the project or task back on track or will it only cause further derailment? Usually it will be the latter.

Constructively consider the available options at the moment.

Take a deep breathe during times of stress and issues on the project. Don’t react to the moment, respond to the problem. Look for ways to mitigate and avoid, not over react, oppress and point fingers. Many mutinies have begun over leaders over-exerting powers and directing blame, punishment and humiliation in a public way. This shouldn’t even be done in private. It does no good. Collect the group, brainstorm solutions and workarounds and decisions with your team to present to the project client so as a delivery team you can – collaboratively together, get the off the rails project back on the rails.

Reach out for leadership assistance.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Lots of bullying and oppressive behavior is merely a result of not knowing what to do or say or the best way to react. The CEO or the guy to your left may have never gone through what you and your team are going through. But the guy to your right may have. In today’s real time communication possibilities there is no excuse for not trying to reach out for assistance somewhere – even outside your organization.

Sit down and do a roundtable discussion.

Great way to avoid being an over oppressive micromanaging jerk? Hold roundtable discussions with the team, with stakeholders… even involve the customer if the situation calls for it. You might get away with being oppressive with a team member or two but when you grab everyone involved and gather them to help work through a problem or issue that whole group isn’t likely going to let you get away with wasting their day with your demanding me-centric behavior. The first step in getting help is knowing you need help!

Summary / call for input

So – are you an oppressive BA? Probably not. But we all have those moments of control issues. If you find you have lots of those moments though, you might be an oppressive business analyst. Stop, take a very deep breath and then go take a nap and come back refreshed. Or don’t come back. Your team needs a leader, not a dictator. These steps or actions above will help you to stop, think, reach out to others and avoid a very negative reaction when leading a team. I realize there are more ways to calm down and avoid oppressive behavior – but it’s a start.