Handling Difficult Problems: Is It Better To Do It Now Or Later?


When you have an unpleasant job to do, do it right away. My tendency is to put it off and hope it disappears. There are situations for which this kind of head-in-the-sand approach works best. Conflicts between subordinates, for example. They want you to solve their problem. When you try, things get messier. My partner almost always ignores such problems, and nine times out of 10 they get fixed the way they should — by the people who started the trouble.
However, there are other situations — when, for example, you say something that offends someone (a colleague, a lover, a friend). He e-mails you to express his resentment. You get the e-mail and — if you are like me — you don’t even want to read it. You let it sit. But while you wait, you worry. And so does the other person. Time goes by, but his feelings don’t improve.
On the contrary, they get worse. He thinks you don’t care enough to respond. Or perhaps you have to negotiate a tough deal or resolve a disagreement. This is something that just happened to me last week. I got JJ’s e-mail and let it sit for a week. All the time, it gnawed at me. Finally, yesterday, I wrote him back and clarified my position. Today, he responded. Tempers were easing. I wrote him back again, more conciliatorily this time. His next message was nicer too. Now it’s over and done with. I wish I had fixed this thing the day it happened. I would have enjoyed the weekend more.
If the task you are avoiding has several parts and one of those parts is difficult, do it first. If you’ve discovered that an important shipment to a VIP client was delayed in the mailing, don’t hesitate to call him up and apologize. The sooner you get the fixing process going, the sooner you’ll start feeling better.