The Right Way to Handle Controversial Issues & Decisions

  • Opposition to controversial decisions don't always have to do with the outcome; rather, it's the lack of process that stirs strong emotions. 
  • Don't make a weighted event decision based off of a gut instinct. 
  • Design a fair course of action and involve relevant stakeholders. 
  • Be cognizant of the fact that not everyone is going to back your decision. 

Meeting planners, by nature of their position, are expected to handle situations and make appropriate decisions -- decisions bound to, on occasion, ruffle a few feathers.

Planners who are true leaders also bear the responsibility of mitigating frustrations that might come as a result of their resolve. Ironically enough, it's this frustration that can prevent the planner from implementing their decision in the first place, even if they truly believe it's the right and just one.

What, then, is the meeting planner to do? Some, anxious of potential fallout, water down their resolutions in an effort to alleviate anguish. But, if we're willing to check our assumptions, we might discover there's a better way to minimize upset without sacrificing quality. What if, more than the outcome, the pushback is a result of the process that led to the decision? In other words, what if people don't just get upset with what we've decided, but how we've come to that decision?

It's all about the perception of a fair decision-making process. Once we master this, we can better establish concrete resolutions for controversial issues. 

How to Better Make Tough Decisions

Don't Rely on Gut Instincts 

  • Don't make an event planning decision solely based on what you feel is right.
  • Gather as much information as you can about the subject.
  • Carefully weigh the pros and cons.

Avoid Decision Paralysis 

  • The worst thing to do when a controversial issues arises is to take no action.
  • When you don't act, you run the risk of not solving challenges efficiently.

Design an All-Inclusive Process

  • Communicate a clear, transparent process in advance of the decision with all relevant stakeholders
  • Consider a roll-out of the decisions implementation
    • Phase 1: survey for information from stakeholders
    • Phase 2: get input from parties that will be directly impacted by the decision [e.g. attendees]
    • Phase 3: hold an executive meeting where the ultimate decision will be made).
  • Indicate the criteria on which all aspects of the decision will be made
  • Clearly advertise how each group will play a part in contributing to the final decision.

Communicate the Details

  • When a decision is made, explain its reasoning.
  • Communicate a clear rational that helps people understand that the decision was made based on pre-determined criteria, not capricious whims.
  • If you do choose to go through the effortful and time consuming exercise of inviting others to the table before making your decision, do so with an open mind.

Of course, a good process (and mindset) won't guarantee people will like your decision. In fact, no matter what you decide, someone, somewhere undoubtedly won't. That's okay. Your job isn't to convince them that the outcome is good, it's to maximize the chance they see the process as fair.