12/04/2014 11:01 am ET Updated Feb 03, 2015

Defuse Every Situation -- And Do So Quickly

Anyone who does a job well will alienate various people. I certainly alienated many.

Whenever I made a decision I knew upset someone, I had a formula I used to deal with the situation: I tried to get together with that person before the situation escalated. For the most part, I believe I succeeded.

Whether one-on-one or in groups, one should confront the issue and fix the problem. To my way of thinking, it was always best to deal with the problem on the other person's turf. Accordingly, when an issue arose that, if not addressed, could lead to difficulties, I would walk into the person's office to discuss the matter. Sometimes, I would call to see if the person was in and then walk over; other times I would walk in unannounced.

I would never knowingly let a situation fester. Talking something through might not cure the problem, but it was a powerful antiseptic.

Of course, sometimes it was best to tackle the problem head-on in a larger setting. At the end of the day, the key was to be aggressively proactive. I know I did not always convince those on the other side (in fact, I may rarely have done so), but I also know everyone recognized there was no attempt on my part to hide anything or to let someone else take the blame.

On one occasion, I proposed an idea to the faculty that was met by deafening silence; I then, somewhat inadvertently, obtained funding for that concept from an outside source. I had submitted a proposal requesting funding for an idea the faculty supported, and, in a two-sentence paragraph, mentioned that at some point I wanted to experiment with the concept the faculty had rejected. Unfortunately, the two-sentence, "throw-away" paragraph (the idea rejected by the faculty) was funded.

To blunt the justifiable faculty anger, I shared the proposal I had written. We talked the issue through, and we came to the conclusion we would accept the funds. Although it was my most difficult situation involving faculty members, it ended well because I was honest with them.

One would be well-advised to follow the same approach. While one may not like being the subject of an attack, one will be pleased with the reaction to the transparency and openness of one's actions.