On vulnerability and anger

Alastair Somerville
2 min readMay 24, 2019


Facilitating workshops you often find yourself on the cusp of vulnerability and anger. How you deal with this is not often discussed yet it is fundamental to accepting how sensemaking is about perception and emotion.

The problem, for me, is how often we send junior staff into this situation, into this liminal space, without any support.

Righteous anger

I’ve seen facilitators stagger back with the anger pouring out a person in a workshop.

It’s the righteous anger of a person who has never been listened to. The anger of a person who has finally been offered a time and space to speak of their experiences.

It is the raw anger of truth.

How should a person absorb this?

  • Deflect it?
  • Apologise for it?
  • Defend it?

In general, the current view of best practice is to positively use vulnerability to simultaneously absorb and respect this anger.

Asking the impossible

Yet it is often the most junior members of organisations, particularly government bodies, who are put into this situation and they are not well supported.

I speak to junior staff after workshops. They are recruited for their capabilities but not well assisted when researching and consulting.

They represent enormous organisations, with extensive histories of power and privilege, yet they feel weak.

Human centered- twice

And this is the final problem for managers: to hold the vulnerability and anger of both their junior team members and their users.

This is hard.

There is no easy answer. To absorb the anger and to support the vulnerability is difficult. It’s easy to reflect the anger back. It’s easy to view the vulnerability of others as weakness.

This is why managers need to be able to curate relationships (Relationship Curator is a role idea I picked up from Sonia Boue). Junior staff need support to be able to work with users. Users need help to work with an organisation represented by junior staff.

Managers need to be human centered – twice. They hold responsibility for both staff and users. That’s a lot to expect and organisations need to recognise how that stress ripples thru their hierarchies.


I wrote this while drunk and unable to sleep but have decided to just leave it as is.



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. www.linkedin.com/in/alastair-somerville-b48b368 Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX