7 Ways to Push Through Thorny Issues
Thorny issues always get worse when unattended. Inevitably, you tumble into disappointing results, heated confrontation, broken relationships, or fatalistic resignation.
Thorny issues are pivotal moments that confirm, confront, or establish trajectory.
There is no arrival only trajectory.
Pulling back prolongs agony, elevates stress, and strengthens negative trajectory.
Fear may be right. If you bring it up, it might blowup.
When you feel like pulling back, push through.
Address your need to pull back with curiosity not solutions.
- Explore concerns in small contexts with trusted colleagues. Don’t stir the pot before you know what’s in it.
- Avoid quick assessments. Thorny issues aren’t black and white.
- Be uncertain with optimism. “I’m not sure what’s happening, but I want to deal with any issues before they get out of hand.”
- Reject quick solutions.
Use open language:
- “What issues are you seeing,” is better than, “This is the issue.”
- “What might be causing this,” is better than, “This is the result of….”
- “What are our options,” is better than, “We need to ….”
Open language protects you from oversimplifying problems, solutions, and strategies.
7 ways to push through thorny issues:
- Take responsibility without pointing fingers.
- Stay involved. Don’t light a fire and walk away.
- Define and declare issues honestly. If things aren’t working say so.
- Appeal to good intentions. Falling short was not for lack of trying. It’s frustrating but true.
- Work toward balance. Discuss options with Mr. Compassion, Mr. Doer, and Mr. Vision.
- Develop solutions that have behavioral expressions. Nothing changes until behaviors change.
- Affirm progress and future goals more than pointing out failure.
Push through thorny issues with curiosity and openness. Pulling back is tumbling down.
What should leaders avoid when thorny issues arise?
How do you deal with thorny issues?
If I may suggest..
8. Insure frequent communication, across the group — stress doubt and paranoia can take us away to bad places, even isolation, frequent communication can help mitigate their effects. “New thorns” can be uncovered sooner rater than later…
“Lets be sure to chat about our progress daily, even if we can only grab only 5-10 minutes…”
Thanks Ken. Great add! Make discussions that could include thorny issues part of the daily routine.
Pointing fingers I believe is one of the worst!
Take responsibility for your actions and backup your employees.
If an employee needs addressed do it privately and educate them with the facts that caused the issue, build them up, don’t drag them down, guide them on their journey too.
Take each instance as an opportunity to build your workforce to lessen the impact of future Thorns, the thorns never go away, but they can be smaller…..
Thanks Tim. I find that pointing fingers is a main reason people pull back from thorny issues. When leaders say, “This is my responsibility and I need your help,” it invites others to participate.
The view that thorny issues are opportunities transforms attitudes. That doesn’t mean they are easy. It means we face them with optimism.
Dan, This is such an important topic (and a great list). I see so much damage in companies from “pulling back” or “pushing down.” It’s easy to pretend you are letting something go, when you are really ignoring it… and then the festering begins. Oh yeah, it happens in personal relationships too.
Thanks Karin. So glad you added the idea that “letting go” may be a subtle form of pulling back. Brilliant!
The noble virtue of letting go of things could simply be cowardice or avoidance. OUch!
I appreciate two concepts in dealing with thorny issues- avoid quick assessment and take responsibility. It is very true. We tend to finger someone in case we face any issues. We also tend to make premature assessment and become negative many times. We tend to believe that issues may not be resolved. These times are testing times. One need to avoid being in limelight. One should also keep low profile while increasing effort. Sometimes more visibility and more communication can create problems. However, many times, it works. So, it depends upon the kind of issues.
Leaders should avoid making perception while dealing with thorny issues. They should take into accounts facts, data and information. They should be matured and wise to evaluate the issues. When I hear anything about me specially negative, I keep my ear closed. I do not interfere or jump it unless it harms me. But when it becomes painful, I try to talk face to face. I put my points and send signal what I want.
At work place, leaders should exercise transparency, open communication and conflict resolutions mechanism in place. Execution of mechanism is even more important.
Thanks Dr. Gupta. As I read your comment, I thought about the down side of being quick minded. Fast thinkers and quick decision makers are better off slowing down when dealing with thorny issues.
Candid open and genuine conversation is crucial. Make sure you solicit peoples opinion and input. Show your own vulnerability and interject humor into your dialogue. Nothing diffusers tense or difficult issues better than humor. Being able to laugh at yourself and the circumstances is very important and at the same time lightens the moment and gets people comfortable and willing to share.
Thanks Jere. “Show your vulnerability” means don’t succumb to the need to have the answers. Let people know you are explore and searching.
I enjoy the humor idea. I’m reluctant to write about it because humor done poorly makes things worse. It can give the impression that you don’t understand how serious the issue is. But, done well, humor opens our hearts and minds. I find self-deprecating humor feels safer to me.
I had an experience where my leader didn’t know how to deal with thorny issues. I attempted so many of these strategies, but in the end, it didn’t matter because HE didn’t have these skills. Talk about frustrating.
Thanks Melissa. Your comment reminded me of a John Maxwell quote. “Everything stands or falls on leadership.” The quote makes me uncomfortable. I don’t think it means leaders do everything. But, the role of leaders in thorny issues is pivotal to success. When the leader pushes away, the organization pushes away, too.
Again short and sweet advice of approach,
My number 1 suggestion for thorny issues is dependent upon circumstance. If it is a public issue, get yourself and the team back to basics: communication, celebrate small accomplishments, and get everyone on track. You see it all the time in sports when a team is down. If they don’t get back to doing the basics well, they fall apart 90% of the time.
If it is a private issue, such as one between you and someone directly above or below you, find out if it is a pushing or pulling issue. What I mean is, are you or the other person pushing your will and/or direction on the matter, or are either of you trying to pull more towards you? A pushing issue says “I think this is best and I’m going in this direction”. A pulling issue says “I’m going this way, and why aren’t you following (or allowing) me”. I for one find pulling issue much more selfish. Think of the following: in tug of war, two teams are trying to get farther apart, and a dog that is constantly dragging thier owner isn’t considered an obedient dog, and gets a tighter leash (analogy only, I’m not likening people to dogs…). At best, you’ll drag others with you. At worst, the rope breaks and can’t be mended. Humility and apologies are necessary in this situation.
With pushing issues, remember that a team can push through a wall easier than one. Also, quick decisions are bad in most of these cases. It’s like chess (speaking from a high-school chess champion). Quick moves are only valid if you already planned ahead of the move they just took. Stop, sit back, and realize the whole forest can’t be seen among the trees. But don’t linger too long. An great action too late can be worse than a mediocre action in the moment.
When in doubt, humble yourself, remind yourself and others we are human. Work on pushing through the issue, not other people, and DO NOT neglect celebrating the accomplishments.
Thanks John. Your focus on relationships between individuals expands the topic.
In addition, I find your encouragement to humble ourselves refreshing. Sometimes, thorny issues bring out ineffective strategies like proving we are right or proving our “opponent” is wrong.
Love this Dan. I loved what you said here, “Open language protects you from oversimplifying problems, solutions, and strategies.” That’s so true. I’ve seen it work in my work every day! Thanks for the daily dose of inspiration.
Paul// Leadership Blogger, http://www.paulsohn.org
Thanks Paul. Congratulations on putting open language into practice. There can be a struggle with being open, especially when their is a culture of “leaders need to be right.”
Awesome post. I really liked all the 7 ways of dealing with thorny issues.
Yes Dan, I agree if you want to pull back, push through!
Thanks Diana. I find that life tips at those moments when we would prefer to pull back but push through, instead.
I wish the news media would take heed of this advice! Rather than telling us the trajectory of someone experience a thorny issue, if only they would just report the facts. Even public figures should be allowed to experience them.
The “thorny moments” of our lives can be the ones that change us for the better. Judgment of others outside of the event can certainly never be helpful.
Thanks Dianna. Thorny issues have their own stresses and pressure. Being under scrutiny usually adds to the pressure.