Recently on a TV news show, real estate tycoon Donald Trump indicated the biggest mistake in the real estate foreclosure crisis is to ignore a request for payment from lenders. He cited anecdotal findings that many homeowners become so overwhelmed, they ignore bills and requests for payment in the unlikely event the problem will just go away.
This "ignorance is bliss" method of dealing with crises is not unique to this situation. A few years ago, I had a boss who would ignore any e-mails pointing out a problem or asking for intervention in a potentially uncomfortable situation.
It was not uncommon for him to interact with the parties involved over several days without mentioning the conflict or the e-mail. This is so unlike my own natural style of management, that it would drive me nuts. Besides, this manager would very often have to deal with a forest fire later on because he ignored the issue when it was just a smoldering flame.
There are times when it is a legitimate tactic to deliberately allow an issue to work itself out if:
- tensions are very high and you want to allow time to cool off;
- the issue is really not that significant to the organization and the two parties can work it out and learn from their mistakes;
- you need time to gather more information to make a sound decision; or
- there are much higher priorities to deal with.
However, these are the exceptions and even then the manager might still acknowledge the problem while explaining it will be looked at some time in the future-and will be escalated if necessary. Rarely does ignoring an issue completely solve it satisfactorily and permanently.
If you are the manager faced with addressing a problem you must:
- admit there is a problem, don't be in denial; remember perception is reality for the parties involved;
- gather information including talking to the parties, get their version of the problem and possible solutions;
- look at viable possible alternatives-based on policy, organizational goals and a host of factors;
- institute corrective action; and
- get feedback to ensure the problem remains fixed.
Share with us personal experiences in which a problem has been ignored and the possible consequences. I'd also be interested in finding out how you reacted, or would react if this occurred again in the future.