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Nip it in the Bud

January 29, 2019

The phone glares at you from the kitchen table.

You know you need to pick it up, dial the number, and have the conversation you’ve been avoiding for weeks, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. Each day you put it off, the conflict deepens, and your anxiety grows. You know the conversation is inevitable, but it’s becoming tougher by the day.

This conflict that now looms so large might not have been nearly as daunting if you had nipped it in the bud at the start.

I’ve heard the phrase “nip it in the bud” a lot, but I just discovered the origin of this idiom. It refers to a flower. If you nip the bud of a flower, it won’t grow, so it makes sense that we say this in reference to a conflict or problem. We want to address it from the start, so it won’t get bigger.

Former president of Chick-fil-A Jimmy Collins was known for saying, “Bad news doesn’t get better with time.” He encouraged people that needed to address something painful or unpopular to just do it, nip it in the bud, and move on.

I wish I could say I’m a master at this concept, that I address issues head on, and that I don’t avoid what needs to be said. But honestly, this is one of my greatest weaknesses as a leader. I avoid conflict — specifically with people I care about — far too often. If I have bad news to share, my tendency is to delay delivering it as long as possible. If I’ve committed to something and need to back out, sometimes I avoid cancelling my commitment until the very last minute (often making it worse and making me seem more rude) because I don’t want to disappoint anyone. If a coworker doesn’t perform well, I might wait to have a discussion with them, but when I initiate this conversation weeks later, it seems like I’ve been festering on it for such a long time.

Now that I’m completely exposed, I want you to consider your own approach to conflict. Maybe conflict is easy for you. If that’s the case, keep leaning in. However, if you’re like me and tend to avoid challenge or distance yourself from conflict, this blog is a reminder for you that bad news doesn’t get better with time. In fact, it often gets worse.

It’s certainly important to be honest, but expressing the truth promptly is a quality of a good leader. We must learn to nip things in the bud before they grow out of control.

So, what have you been avoiding? Is there a conversation you need to have? Stop right now. Exit out of this window. Send the email. Pick up the phone. Set up the meeting. Do what you need to do to address it.

When it’s over, I’m willing to bet you’ll feel relieved, maybe even encouraged, because it’s usually not nearly as bad as we think it will be — especially when we address the issue as quickly as possible and nip it in the bud.

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