How do rude encounters affect decision-making? This was a short article in the May-June 2023 issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and it got me to thinking how true this is when working with stakeholders, subject matter experts (SME), and other team members on learning projects.

Anchoring Bias

“Across four experiments, participants who experienced or overheard a rude conversation were highly likely to fall prey to the so-called anchoring bias, whereby people rely too heavily on the first piece of information they receive about a topic, even when it’s irrelevant or wrong,” (Harvard Business Review, p.29).

Apply this research to the work we do as instructional designers every day when we are working with SMEs. This bias could really impact the learning we are creating whether that be the course content, or assessments.

Apply Emotional Intelligence to the Situation

One way to mitigate this is to apply some emotional intelligence to the situation. Emotional intelligence, or EI, is the ability to recognize your emotions, understand them, and see how they affect those around you. Having high emotional intelligence also means you understand other people’s emotions. This allows you to manage your relationships better and avoid potential conflicts. There are four elements that define emotional intelligence.

Let’s look at each strategy through the lens of working with a challenging SME, team member, or stakeholder.


Self-awareness is your ability to accurately perceive your emotions and stay aware of them as they happen. If you are working with a SME and there is an uncomfortable exchange, recognize how that impacts your feelings, the work you are doing (maybe you are writing content, how is it impacting your writing?), and those around you.

Often in our working relationships with others, we may have a trigger event. A trigger event is an event that causes a prolonged emotional reaction that you remember and when a similar event happens again, you often will react in a similar way.

Since our brains are wired to make us emotional creatures, your first reaction to an event is always going to be an emotional one. You have no control over this part of the process. You DO control the thoughts that follow.

What are some strategies to get yourself back in a positive place?

• Keep a Journal – Journals help you improve your self-awareness. If you spend just a few minutes at the end of each day writing down your thoughts, this can move you to a higher degree of self-awareness.

• Slow down


Self-Management is your ability to use awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and positively direct your behavior. Once you have taken a minute, try some of these strategies:

• Know your values.

• Hold yourself accountable.

• Practice being calm, sleep on it.

• Recognize your resistance to change and accept it is always happening.

• Count to ten

Social Awareness.

Social Awareness is your ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people and understand what is really going on. These strategies are where the magic starts to happen.

• Put yourself in someone else’s position.

• Pay attention to body language.

• Respond to feelings.

Research showed that those who can see the perspective of others, in this case, the one who was rude, can enable you to moderate the anchoring bias.

Relationship Management Awareness.

Relationship Management is your ability to use awareness of your emotions and others’ emotions to manage interactions successfully. Here are some things you can do to grow your relationship management.

• Learn conflict resolution.

• Improve your communication skills.

• Learn how to praise others.

As instructional designers, eLearning developers, and trainers we rely on others to help us craft a learning product and if a negative interaction occurs, according to new research published in HBR, it can adversely impact our content. Thus, one of the keys to great courses is often the partnership, collaboration, and relationship you have with your team members, SMEs, and stakeholders. Which EI strategy will you try?