How To Handle Your Company's Messiest Situations Without Losing Your Sanity
As humans, it seems as though we’re hard-wired to think of things in binary terms; up or down, good or bad, right or wrong.
Our experience, however, informs us that life is rarely so simple.
The situations we encounter in our lives, (and business in particular) tend to be far more complicated, nuanced, and grey than we are comfortable admitting.
As a result, we often simplify the facts through brute force, discarding the unfortunate truths that don’t fit our worldview and manufacturing a straightforward narrative that suits our position.
I’m closing in on a decade of being an entrepreneur, and I’ve yet to encounter a real problem that was ultimately cut and dry.
Fortunately, I’ve learned some strategies for dealing with messy, complicated situations that have helped me navigate more than a few problematic issues.
Equip yourself with the truth
Business is often more of a zero-sum game than most of us would like to admit. There are winners and losers in every scenario, and that leads to a "survival of the fittest" mentality that influences our decisions.
Now, this isn’t to say that win-win situations are unattainable, but we do have to be intellectually honest about the nature of self-interest in business.
This drive to maximize self-interest can lead to the use of half-truths, mild distortions, and cherry-picked facts when the situation suits us. As humans, we do our best to rationalize these failings and dismiss them as insignificant.
The trouble is that these distortions are seeds. When they take root, they grow and evolve, eventually defining the landscape of our lives.
Lies, however small, lead to more lies. Soon, we can find ourselves drowning in half-truths and their consequences, especially when navigating messy situations.
The solution to this problem is to stay honest, no matter what. The truth, even when encumbered by inconvenient facts, is always stronger than a distortion.
I’ve had to deal with more messy situations than I care to remember, and the only times that they’ve gone poorly for me is when I don’t have the whole truth on my side.
Sometimes, it has been a function of not having all the information. Other times, it was because the facts went against my position in the matter.
I’ve learned, however, that embracing the facts and going with the truth, even when inconvenient, has the power to simplify and clarify even the murkiest of situations.
You might not always come out ahead, but then again, this article is about handling your company’s messy situations without losing your sanity, not winning at all costs.
Slow down and be consistent
Honesty is important, but consistency is critical. As leaders, we don’t have the luxury to pick and choose when we take a stand.
For me, every day leading my company is a learning experience. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people I trust, respect, and admire, and none of them are afraid to tell me when I’m in the wrong.
As valuable as that feedback is, it is also a double-edged sword. As you incorporate the advice of others into your response, it can quickly come across as being erratic and inconsistent.
The trick to avoiding this is to stop, think, and proceed deliberately. Whether we like to admit it or not, business is emotional. There have been times when I’ve felt so passionately about a given scenario that I can barely stop myself from firing off an angry text or email.
Slowing your reaction time, however, enables you to fully digest a situation and craft a response that is both well thought out and consistent.
When you’re consistent with your story, approach, and demeanor, messy situations become a little less messy because you only have one clear storyline to navigate.
Demonstrate grace in all things
We often don’t think about grace when talking about business, but I believe it’s an important virtue that every leader must cultivate.
In this context, grace refers to undeserved yet freely given respect, dignity, and understanding.
When you demonstrate grace, you don’t let yourself get consumed by petty anger, fear, or vengeance, especially when dealing with tough situations.
All too often, we make matters worse by falling victim to our base desires for revenge or punishment.
Graceful leadership, on the other hand, sticks to the facts and understands the human element of messy situations. Put another way; it allows you to stand above the rabble and focus on the fundamental truths of any given challenge.
I’ve long believed that wisdom is found at the intersection of grace and experience. Experience gives you the ability to understand how people behave and to protect yourself. Grace allows you to rise above your emotional reaction. Mix them, and you have the wisdom that we all strive to achieve.
Business is a messy affair. Emotions flare, feelings are hurt, mistakes are made, and conflicts arise.
However, if you recognize the complexity at hand, equip yourself with the truth, remain consistent, and strive to demonstrate grace, you’ll find that even the messiest of situations can be managed.
Remember, we are not judged by whether we win or lose a given scenario. We are judged by how we handle ourselves in times of struggle. Truth, consistency, and a little bit of grace are the only tools you need to come out ahead.