As people, our natural tendency is to put off painful tasks or delay making that annoying or painful call such as:
Turning down a person's idea
Encouraging an employee to improve their performance
Resolving conflict between two or more employees
Terminating a position
Telling investors your business is losing money
Asking vendors for new rates or invoice payment terms
Our tendency to "procrastinate" doubles when the call involves dealing with person-to-person conversations in which we expect to inflict pain - to either ourselves or the other. Having said that, they are harder because they tend to matter most too!
Using an example, one day:
You are speaking to clients who are positively raving about your service
Your development team is deep in work to deliver new features/capabilities
People are committing to deliver a certain set of outcomes within the next week
Your customer drops a voicemail, email or message to let you know the deal got delayed or, worse, cancelled.
The capability your development team delivered is nowhere close to your expectations or understanding.
You suspect that one of your team is slacking off and creating stress on the remainder of the team.
Projects are failing and delaying, putting at risk the commitments you gave your customer.
After all of the years in your role, you get to become pretty intuitive around these aspects.
Option 1: Delay...
First thoughts tend to be to bury your head in the sand and avoid it by coming up with logical reasons why this situation will magically recover and be better.
Ironically, your busy schedule aligns and gives you all of the excuses to delay...
...in addition to an extended set of tempting alternatives:
I have to take care of this one thing first
Let me clean my desk/room
I don’t have enough time
I’m too tired
I already have two jobs
My kids are fighting
Other people need stuff from me
I’ll do it tomorrow
I don’t know-how
No one cares
I’m not strong enough
I’m not informed enough
I’m not (fill in the blank) enough
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, Tik Tok, Email
A coffee break
A cigarette break
The need to stretch
The need to call someone or write someone or see someone
Youtube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney+, Apple TV+
The impacts of delay...
They all seem so reasonable, real and important!. As a result, you start experiencing symptoms of anxiety and wastage:
A false sense of progress
Lack of sleep due to worry
Increased Stress (and all of its side effects...)
Option 2: Prioritise and Act...
We know that the best thing to do is to diarise a call, sort out the arguments across emotions, facts, impact to either business, customers or teammates, cross your fingers, grit your teeth, and get hit with it.
People are rarely intentionally destructive and generally unaware of the consequences of situations they may have created.
Use structure techniques for approaching the conversation with empathy:
What do you plan to do?
What do you think about this?
How would you suggest we approach this?
What would you do to solve it?
What are some of the approaches you suggest?
Why do you think this happened?
What else can you do?
The impacts of action...
Dealing with "it" leads to greater productivity.
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain
Your team can re-focus on delivering the outcomes required
You have clarity
You regain momentum
You develop a habit of positive actions
You achieve a small win
You are free to do the work that you enjoy
Engage, discuss, discover, address...
You will find that such actions are rarely that bad! Yes, calls like these will never be perfect, and you will generally find that if you act fast enough, you are in time to prevent worse outcomes.
You realise that you will get the same in response by picking up the phone and being open, honest, and proactive.
Even more, getting the hardest thing done first means you can focus on getting more done the rest of the day rather than focusing on the one thing you don’t want to do.
Once you cut the call and look back, you will think aloud: why didn't I do this on Monday?
Even more, it helps the other counterpart of your fear understand you better, build deeper relationships and rapport of trust!
I have committed myself to tackle my worst calls in the first hour of the day.
Team member finishing an assignment earlier than expected, putting quality in question? First call I make.
No progress updates being received from the team around a sensitive project? First call I make.
Project blocked as it needs information from a customer. First call I make.
Be determined to tackle suck situations head-on, find a solution and move on. No more secret frantic worrying!
And you know what the best part is? It most likely isn't as bad as you think. But you won't know until you pick up the phone and call.