Vail Daily column: Tough questions, simple answers |

Vail Daily column: Tough questions, simple answers

So the other day, I was part of a circular conversation. You know the kind I mean, right? The conversations that go round and round, circling the airport but never landing. The conversations where people jockeying for position, taking conversations down a rabbit hole or go so far in an attempt to be politically correct that there is never really any clear outcome from the discussion.

And sometimes, maybe even more than sometimes, in those circular conversations, the toughest questions are avoided and actions are taken so that we do not have to respond. We avoid the awkwardness through nimble and precise evasiveness.


Why does that happen? What questions can possibly be so difficult that we have to hide from their answers? Perhaps it is not so much that we can’t answer the question. Maybe it’s because as we search our hearts and minds, and we really don’t like the answer that we know to be true.

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In so many situations where I have coached business professionals, colleagues and even close personal friends, one of the most common things I hear is that it’s not so much the answer to the tough question that they struggle with — it is trying to over-manage the feelings and how other people receive and respond to the answer that they need to give.

So instead of being direct, we begin layering our response, back-pedaling a little, start our circular navigation of the airport runway, and before we know it, we achieve total avoidance or dismissal of the question because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or upset the apple cart in any way.


Every one of our great grandparents has passed this next message along to our grandparents, who in turn shared it with our parents and our parents then revealed the secret to us, and now it is our turn to solve the mystery for our children, family and friends. It is really not a very well-kept secret, and it is actually rather quite simple in nature, not even worthy of the verbose build up I am giving it in this column.

The message is this, “Tough questions, and any question for that matter, deserve our direct and honest response.” Whew … there, I said it and now it’s over. So obvious, so simple, yet so unpracticed. You see, common sense is not always common practice right? And how often have each one of us delayed a call, a meeting, responding to a question or an email just because we absolutely dreaded how the other person might react. Can I repeat that? Might react.


I do not write this column as if I have never done this myself; sure I have, and so have all of you at some time or other. And just like all of you who have learned the lesson, regardless of how long it took to learn the lesson, it becomes easier and less stressful with each experience and we finally learn to do it in every conversation and with every tough question. The reaction we expect is never as bad as we imagine.

Now, we do have to remember also that it is not what we say but how we say it that matters. There is no direct response to a tough question that calls for our own lack of compassion and understanding. Think of the bedside manner of a compassionate physician, and imagining answering the questions in the same loving, caring and understanding way. So … tough questions? The answer is really very simple isn’t it?

How about you? Can you benefit from practicing and learning from the experience of responding with honest and direct answers? I would love to hear all about it at, and I can assure you that when you practice this approach it really will be a better than good week.

Michael Norton is a strategic consultant, business and personal coach, and motivational speaker. He writes a weekly motivational column for the Vail Daily.

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