This is a guest post from our friend, Adrienne Twigg.
Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night dreading a meeting, a decision that must be made, or a conversation that you anticipate will be difficult, challenging, or contentious? Absolutely, I would raise my hand and say, “guilty as charged.”
Also, how many of us put that “event” off with the thought that we just need time to concentrate on how we are going to approach it, that we will tend to it when we have more energy, or that it will magically resolve itself all on its own?
Often, we actually know and believe that the outcome will be better for all involved once we attend to this “event.” Yet, we still have a tendency to put the “event” off. In effect, we are running from facing the “event.”
We have all seen the Nike tag line printed on tee shirts, posters, billboards, and different ads: “Just Do It.” Aside from the normal advertising hype, I believe Nike is onto something.
Years ago, I heard a speaker relaying a story he heard Zig Ziglar tell during one of his presentations. For those of you who may not be familiar with Mr. Ziglar, he was absolutely a GOAT in communication and sales skills development (for some of us baby boomers who aren’t up on the hip language of today, GOAT stands for “greatest-of-all-time”….and you’re welcome!). Mr. Ziglar could come up with sayings, analogies, anecdotes, and quips better than anyone I’ve ever heard – even to this day.
This particular story involved Zig’s personal friend who lived in Montana and owned a large ranch. This friend had a huge herd of cattle and a huge herd of bison.
Zig relayed an interesting observation his friend made in reference to the behavior of the two different types of livestock his friend raised. Apparently, when a thunderstorm came up and headed toward the ranch, the cows would get nervous and run in the opposite direction of the approaching storm, effectively turning their backs on the storm. However, no matter how quickly they ran, they could not outrun the storm. After the cows became weary and totally exhausted, the turbulent weather would overtake the cows, drenching them through and through; occasionally, there was a fatal lightning strike that would kill one or more of the cows.
For the herd of bison, it was a completely different story. Once the bison sensed the thunderstorm brewing and coming their way, instead of turning and running from the storm in an effort to avoid it, they would put their mighty heads down and proceed directly into the storm. This herd would continue to do so until they were all the way through the stormy weather and coming out into calmer skies and better weather. Make no mistake, the bison did expend energy during the event and they certainly got wet! However, they were able to make it through the storm and reach calmer skies and safety much faster, without the amount of struggle that the cows endured.
This story made me think of how we humans – as leaders, employers, friends, and family – will sometimes run in the opposite direction and turn our backs on situations in an effort to avoid uncomfortable, yet important and pertinent, conversations.
We have two options to consider when facing these important conversations. The first option is to panic, be paralyzed (do nothing), or run from it. It is easy to lose focus and end up pondering all of the “what ifs” of a scenario, allowing our imagination to run wild and lose our way; for example, thinking “what if I have this conversation and <fill in the dramatic outcome your imagination comes up with>?”
It seems our minds can conjure up myriad ways these fictional scenarios could unfold. And, research tells us that these stories we tell ourselves more often end up down the path of a negative ending rather than a positive outcome—yes, the disaster films we play in our heads. It is easy then to find ourselves in the panic mode, and the result is we run, like the cattle, trying to get away and avoid the “storm.”
Two questions that might be helpful to ask ourselves is: what are the risks if I have this important conversation, and also, what are the risks if I do not have this important conversation?
The second option we have is to prepare. This option requires us to have some awareness, thought, action, and sometimes energy in the process. Remember the bison part of the story? The bison were aware of the storm approaching and gave thought about the direction they needed to head. Unlike the cattle, their action was to move toward the storm. The bison did not just decide to lazily meander towards this storm; the bison did quite the opposite and took action to give all they had to give because they knew that is what would put them in a better place.
One definition of prepare is to “make ready or able to do or deal with something.” One way to do this is to gain clarity on what we would like the end result of the conversation to be; what direction do we need to go to achieve this desired result?
One thing is for certain: we can’t resolve something that we don’t address or confront. We can’t run from everything that’s uncomfortable and ignore issues, sweeping them under the rug thinking they’ll go away.
We all face times like these where we have to make this decision. Am I going to keep putting off what I know I should do? Am I going to allow things to continue the way they are, not rock the boat or deal with it, even though it is not working? Or am I going to stop, prepare and then have this difficult conversation?
The problem with ignoring issues is that you are more than likely going to have to deal with it at some point—rarely does it magically just disappear. Why not prepare and have the conversation before things implode, or explode, and become bigger or worse, possibly ending in a “lightning strike” with even more damage?
What we run from, we’ll always have to go back and deal with before we can move forward. The only way out is through. It’s time to stop running. It’s time to confront and resolve. When we actively move towards these difficult conversations, we can focus on doing it properly – with respect and support.
Finally, let’s start viewing these difficult conversations as opportunities to learn and grow. The majority of the time, participants on either side will look back on these conversations, learn from them, and appreciate that the outcome is a better long-term solution for all concerned, which clearly outweighs the short-term impact of having those difficult conversations.
So, which do you choose to be? The cow or the bison?
NOTE: Want to learn some basic communication skills, build some confidence, and gain courage for having these potentially challenging conversations? We are excited to have Katherine Eitel-Belt presenting at our Annual Client Conference, October 7-8, in Denver. This is her area of expertise, and her presentation is titled: “Courageous Conversations: Mastering the Important Conversations You’ve Been Avoiding.” We look forward to seeing you there!
“When we avoid difficult conversations, we trade short term discomfort for long term dysfunction.”
~ Peter Bromberg