The “Now or Later” Rule

Today, I was involved in an unpleasant conversation.

A friend of mine and I are working on something together.  We’ve been at it for about seven months and have put a lot of emotional energy into it.  The problem is, we’re not getting the outcomes we really want.

So today, my friend decided to talk about it—to put it out in the open so that we could examine it.   The conversation was about an hour long.  We discussed reality.  Because of the energy we’ve invested, it was hard to not allow the “feelings” part of it to come into play.  We want things to be “right”—but, at the moment, they’re not.  We had to deal with fundamental truths.  Bottom line, it was somewhat uncomfortable for both of us.

The result?  We moved forward.  We named the “white elephant” and are now closer to the successful outcomes that we really desire.  We still have some decisions to make and several roads of action to consider, but we definitely made progress.

And most importantly, we’re closer now than before the conversation.  Our friendship is stronger!

Which brings me to the point.  We avoid conflicts and/or tough conversations—ALL of us!

Why?

There are many reasons, but I think the three biggest are: 

  1. Fear of conflict.  We don’t know how someone will react, so it’s easier and safer not to have the conversation.
  1. We don’t know what to say.  Most of us were never taught how to go through a conflict.  We never learned the right words to use.  We don’t have the right “scripts.”
  1. We want to be liked.  There is a basic human need that we all experience—we want people to like us.  We think that if we have a tough conversation with a person, or ask them to live up to the standards, they won’t like us.  So we avoid it.  And the problem continues.

I’ve been in management and leadership positions for thirty years.  I’ve been married for over 30 years too.  After a while, you begin to figure some things out.

I’ve come up with something that anyone in a position of leadership can benefit from—and it’s just a simple idea.  I call it Robert’s “Now or Later” Rule.

“You can either take care of the problem now or suffer longer and still take care of it later—either way, you will take care of it…”

The biggest problem I see as I travel and talk with leaders is that so many of them avoid the tough conversations.  I hear it all the time.  They hope that the other person can read their mind.  No one can read your mind!

As a leader, your job is not to be liked; your job is to get things done.  Leaders think in terms of results.  Now please don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that people shouldn’t like you.  If you’re respected first, and then liked, it’s awesome!  But most people want to be liked so much that they never hold people accountable or have the tough talks.  There lies the problem!

If you avoid a conversation with a problem employee, or a spouse, or your child who’s misbehaving because it’s “uncomfortable” you will end up having to deal with it sometime in the future.  By then, the little irritation that you’re experiencing now will have begun to fester and will become infected.  And the funny part is, you’re the one who’s experiencing the pain—not the other person.

So my recommendation . . . Do it now.  Have the conversation–even if it feels uncomfortable.  It’s never going to feel comfortable!  So there’s no sense in putting it off.

The truth?  People ruin relationships by not talking.  Period!

When it comes to having the conversation, remember a quote that I want you to live by: “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.” 

It’s rarely as bad as you think.

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