Two things that all leaders must have the courage to deal with are having difficult conversations and making difficult decisions. For a number of reasons, many leaders intentionally shy away from both of these. Dan Rockwell shares some helpful ideas on how to bring up thorny issues.

Originally published by Dan Rockwell

Normal people choose pleasure over pain.

It’s normal to avoid thorny issues.

5 reasons people avoid thorny issues:

  1. The burden of feeling right creates stress to convince others they’re wrong.
  2. Power imbalance. No one wants to contradict the person who controls their salary, for example.
  3. Feeling good is good. Bringing up thorny issues feels bad. But it’s silly to believe spending more time walking on thorns makes you feel better.
  4. Memory of past blow-ups is motivation to shut up. Bad intervention makes thorny issues worse. If you are certain intervention will make things better, short-term pain is worthwhile.
  5. You see a thorny issue that others don’t see.

The thorny issue you can’t bring up is a lid in your life.

Not on their own:

Thorny issues don’t go away on their own, but some issues go away as time passes. Why?

Things that are true when thorny issues go away over time:

  1. People know there is an issue and they’re already working to make improvements. Undramatic progress may go unnoticed.
  2. People acclimate. Complaints about new procedures decrease as people adjust, for example.
  3. Competence gradually improves with practice. Incompetence sees big issues where competence sees opportunity.

Thorny issues don’t magically resolve themselves.

Number one:

You can’t solve thorny issues when people have conflicting concerns.

Shift from pulling against to pulling with.

We all know what we don’t want but ‘not wanting’ isn’t leadership. Determine what WE want.

You shift from pulling against to pulling with when you embrace a shared goal.

Four tips for bringing up awkward issues:

  1. Acknowledge awkwardness.
  2. Resolve emotion before solving thorny issues.
  3. Curiosity is less stressful than knowing the solution.
  4. Momentary relief from avoiding thorny issues results in calamity later.

Why do we avoid thorny issues?

What practices enable leaders to bring up thorny issues?