Risky Business

Just this past couple of weeks, I had several discussions with clients that revolved around talks they knew needed to happen but were afraid of. That’s because their minds intuitively jumped towards the scariest thing that can happen, and they get caught imagining the worst.

If you find yourself having the same discussions, with someone else or just with yourself, repeating how bad things are, you’re likely having the same issue. You have to realize that ruminating over it for hours is not going to help whatsoever. The good news is that there’s a mental model you can apply here which I’ve found to be very helpful.

Risk Management

These talks are scary because there’s a risk involved. The most frightening is usually the risk of someone quitting right when you need them the most, but it can also be losing support on a project or going into a political war to prevent a change you disagree with.

Once you have this fearful feeling and realize that there’s a risk ahead, you have the opportunity to handle it in a cleaner manner. Instead of repeatedly stressing over it until you eventually do it, you can work to assess the risk:

What are the options: What are the different scenarios that can unfold, the actual risks. For example, Joe might quit on the spot, he might quit but say he’s willing to stay on for a couple of months, or he might come to the conclusion he’d like to stay with the company anyway. Proper risk assessment starts with covering all the bases, so you should give these scenarios a couple of minutes of thought, to the point where you feel you have covered the possible spectrum of options.

Otherwise, your mind will keep coming back to this, trying to imagine new outcomes. Exhaust your options here before moving on.

What’s the severity: Now that you have your three options in hand, think about what it means for them to happen. After all, it’s not really “we’re doomed,” is it? If it would happen, I assume you wouldn’t shrug and go for a walk on the beach, having given up. You would do something. So think now, what would your options be?

Thinking ahead of the possibilities to address the risk should it pan out is your first step in creating contingency plans. Having well thought out contingencies means you can understand what the severity of the issue really is, and how worried you should really be. Without planning the contingency steps available, we are prone to focus on the scary parts without comprehending their actual consequences.

What’s the likelihood: After understanding what are the possible outcomes and how you will operate if they come to fruition, assess how likely you believe that each one of these are. This step is twofold. First, by vocalizing that the scariest scenario is quite unlikely (which usually is the case, it’s rarely that someone throws a chair when they are being let go), you help your monkey brain to put these thoughts aside.

Second, assessing the probability also provokes the thought process of how can you lower the odds as well. Whatever you might do ahead of time to reduce the chances of something terrible happening is a preventive measure. Put these in place.

And once you have these all figured out, you can stop stressing yourself out. You’ve done your homework, you put in place whatever possible to prevent, and you have a contingency in case things go sideways. The important thing is that you know you’ve made the right decision and will execute it. That’s half of the job description. Onwards!