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5 Ways We Avoid Discomfort And How It Restricts Us To Lead

By Nina Cashman
Updated October 5, 2016

Discomfort – it’s a part of life. We experience varying degrees of it all of the time with our coworkers, acquaintances, and even our friends and family members. Why? Well, thankfully, the world is colored with a myriad of different perspectives that challenge our thinking, and often stretch us outside of our comfort zones.

Just imagine how boring things would be if everyone agreed all of the time. How could we learn, innovate, grow, or even laugh, if everyone were always on the same page?

Strong leaders know that they’ve got problems, when they consistently witness their teams nodding in agreement all of the time, instead of raising issues with one another and collaborating to problem solve. Yet so many of us are extremely uncomfortable with discomfort, and this actually minimizes our leadership impact.

When we attempt to avoid discomfort, we actually make things even more uncomfortable than they have to be. Sometimes all it takes is one uncomfortable conversation to solve a problem, or better yet, implement a brilliant idea. The bottom line is that our ability to get comfortable with discomfort, not only raises our own effectiveness; it also separates true leaders from followers.

True leaders are willing to confront discomfort with ease, while those looking at the back of their heads would prefer to uncomfortably shy away from discomfort. So, what are the signs that you, or someone you know, chronically avoids discomfort and how do others perceive it? Here’s a list of what I like to call, the all too common “discomfort avoiders”

1. The Deaf Pivot

You know what I’m talking about. It’s abundantly clear that someone would prefer not to hear what we have to say, when god forbid, we express an issue of concern, or honest feeling about a situation without rose colored glasses, and we get a blank stare, and a token subject change in return. While this method keeps the conversation “positive” and “on-track” through the eyes of the pivitor, it makes people on the receiving end feel completely discounted and unimportant.

Now, just stop and think about the influence qualities of any great leader you know. Is making people feel unworthy and invalid on that list? Leaders who refuse to open their ears and hear perspectives that fall outside of their own personal agendas, actually come across as self- absorbed, out-of- touch and insensitive to the needs of others. Ironically, the overall impact of the deaf pivot has pretty adverse effects to the initial intent of keeping things “positive.”

2. The Clean Sweep

Here’s where our avoider hears everything we have to say, and due to the mere inconvenience of it, prefers the proverbial, “let’s sweep this under the rug” method. In this case, the avoider may take time to hear us out, and might even expressively respond to us. Yet, as time passes, the issue neither gets resolved, nor discussed again. It’s simply put away in a black box of discomfort, which everyone is now too afraid to re-open.

The clean sweep is a masterful way of making mountains out of molehills – by setting an awkward tone that certain topics are simply unapproachable. This tone then instigates isolation from others, and often, disconnection from the real issues influencing bottom line performance.

3. The Sugarcoat

Discomfort avoiders who sugarcoat have a full swag bag of their own self-validating rose-colored glasses, and are insistent on always making us see sunshine and lollipops – even if they aren’t really there. When we present a topic of concern to this type of avoider, the conversation can get a little confusing, to say the least.

Instead of confronting the issues head-on, the sugarcoater glosses over any points of contention with a sweet candy coating, in an effort to make the situation seem better than it really is. This causes true facts to get lost, while derailing real possibilities for core issues to get resolved.

People who regularly sugarcoat are typically well intended – they think that by forcing a bad situation into a good one, they are staying open to opportunities. Ironically, by looking away from the realities of a situation, sugarcoaters actually miss the real opportunities that are more applicable to truth of what’s really going on. And, in doing so, they come across as aloof and afraid to face different perspectives, or the mere facts.

4. The Big Blame

The sole intention of any blamer is to get the problem off of themselves, by pointing the finger at other people. By making a problem solely belong to someone else, this avoider sidesteps the risk of getting involved with any issues that could challenge their abilities and intellect. The blamer’s biggest fear is “looking bad,” so they will often worry about others perceiving them as “wrong” or “incompetent.”

As is often the case, the very thing that is avoided becomes this person’s reality, as people begin to sense the blamer’s innate fear of problem solving, and yes, incompetency when it comes to solution development.

Instead, the blamer’s rude, demanding and disparaging behavior becomes a noticeable defense mechanism to make other people look as bad as they feel inside. Let’s face it, nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to work with a blamer.

5. The Busy Fixer

This method of avoidance often shows-up in the form of micromanagement. Instead of giving others the necessary trust and space to manage through there own moments of discomfort, fixers will swoop-in, uninvited, to save the day – even when others are perfectly capable of managing the issue themselves.

_5-ways-we-avoid-discomfort-and-how-it-restricts-us-to-lead-pin There’s a slight air of superiority with people who like to fix things – they seem to think that they are the only ones capable of resolving issues, or that somehow, their way is the only right way and everyone else around them is incapable.

Working with a fixer can get frustrating. They react before they know what they are reacting to, which makes the rest of us feel tentative about inviting them into processes, not to mention, weary of trusting them with vulnerable information, lest they try to fix it for us.

So, what do all these discomfort avoidances have in common? They are all devoid of sufficient listening skills, and lack in their ability to support others. For this reason, people who chronically avoid discomfort tend to minimize their trust, respect and overall leadership impact.

The best way to get comfortable with life’s inevitable moments of discomfort is to simply listen to what others have to say, and respect their perspectives as worthy enough to hear, whether it makes you uncomfortable or not. The ability to offer support and resourcefulness to others, during the most challenging, and yes, uncomfortable times, is a part of what it takes to be a successful leader and a likeable person.

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Katherine Hurst
By Nina Cashman
Nina is a trained and certified coach, trainer and workshop facilitator who specializes in career growth and development, leadership, team building and individual branding. She has 17 years of marketing experience and has been busy building successful products and brands for national companies throughout her entire career. Nina's biggest achievement is witnessing the growth, connection and collaboration that transpired when her teams felt fully empowered to perform at their best. Nina believes the most important brand a person can build is her own individual brand, which requires full awareness of personal values and acceptance of current capabilities, as well as a sincere belief that anything is possible.

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