How Managing Consequences Is Key To Risk-Taking

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Self Leadership
How Managing Consequences Is Key To Risk-Taking

What’s really at risk when you take a risk? I was coaching a client recently on working with his new supervisor.

This supervisor had already shown his true colors many times. He would go back on his word, drag things out, allow deadlines to come and go, and change his story from one day to the next.

My client and I looked closely at whether he wanted to continue in this position, with this employer. What was the risk? What was the reward? What was at stake? Sometimes his dignity. How much was he willing be paid, or pay, for compromising?

We discussed when and how would he stand up for himself. We pondered the likely outcome of different choices. It all came down to him having the willingness and courage to take the consequences of a particular choice.

What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

I notice this with others and also myself. When it comes to making a tough decision, and weighing risk and reward, we want to prevent discomfort and get our way, at the same time of course. Examples I hear include:

  • I need to give my employee this vital performance feedback. How can I keep the situation from heating up?
  • I don’t want to take part in this year’s block party. How can I say no, and my neighbors still like me?
  • I don’t like the way my boss is treating me. How do I speak up for myself and it not work against me?

I had a falling out with a colleague a few years ago. She initiated an email exchange months later. I got to the point where I didn’t even want to answer her. Given the history it seemed like the best way to end the exchange, but I didn’t feel good about it.

A friend helped me sort it out. It went something like this:

Friend: What does she want from you?
Me: To make everything okay between us.
Friend: Can you or do you want to give that to her?
Me: No.
Friend: Can you live with whatever happens?
Me: Yes.

Managing The Consequences

This is the beauty of talking to someone outside the situation. My gifted adviser broke the situation down to 3 simple questions. The last one being key.

The only person who makes no mistakes is the one who never does anything.
~ Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m not saying my decision was right for anyone else, but it was one I could live with. My friend helped me focus on the heart of what was going on, for me. She helped me consider what I was and was not willing to do. When I did, the likely outcome wasn’t pleasant, but it was one I could live with. I felt my energy shift and lift.

I’m thinking about how we could apply these questions to the scenarios I listed above. Let’s think about the manager who is dreading giving feedback. Underneath this I sense a plaintive, “How can I make my employee be okay with this?” or rather, “How can I make my employee be okay with me?”

Here’s the deal. The employee may never be happy with what you are going to tell them. They deserve to know though. Prepare for a variety of reactions. Then plan to deliver in a way that minimizes the damage.

Sometimes We Just Need a Reminder

I call this approach, “consequence management.” You often hear it as advice applied to worrying. You know. Describe what worries you. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” This may be personal and unique to you. Then do what you need to do to come to terms with “the worst thing” that can happen. Same principle.

Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must first be overcome.
~ Samuel Johnson

Is this unexplored territory for you? Sometimes you are going to need to make a decision that risks ticking someone off, putting yourself at a disadvantage or even burning a bridge. What’s it going to take for you to increase your willingness to make a decision in your favor and live with the consequences?

Like my coaching client who had to get clear on the risks and rewards of taking a certain path – get clear on what’s at stake for you and if you can live with it.

What unexplored territory of risk have you explored or do you want to explore?
Photo Credit: BigStockPhoto Anastasia_vish

About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers: http://www.reimaginework.com/LCG/  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

John E. Smith  |  10 Jun 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Mary – great post and one that resonates personally for me.

I enjoyed the whole piece, but particularly liked your clear and useful presentation of those three discernment questions from your trusted advisor. They seem to get right to the heart of what we need to consider honestly as we make decisions, especially whether to engage or not to engage.

The first question provides perspective. We tend to consider things only from our own point of view. As you mention, we ask what WE want from a situation, often not considering what the other person’s goals or desires might be.

The second question is one of the best examples of when a “Yes or No” question is not only appropriate, but essential. I find that many tend to concentrate on those very valuable open-ended questions, but sometimes you just have to choose and act.

That last question is, as you stated, “key”. This can be answered “yes” or “no”, but it is definitely not a straight-forward or simple question. I wonder about time frames here. For example, I might be just fine and dandy right now with severing a relationship, due to the proximity or severity of what caused me to feel that way. However, down the road, I might be less OK or even regretful. While we cannot always know how consistent our decisions will be, this does seem to reinforce that one should think deeply before answering that last one:).

Thanks for an enjoyable and thought-provoking post … of course, I have grown to expect nothing less from you.


Mary C. Schaefer  |  10 Jun 2015  |  Reply

John, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. Those comments could turn into a post in itself – of course, I have grown to expect nothing less from YOU!

My Best,

Manisha  |  10 Jun 2015  |  Reply

John, thanks for the thoughtful analysis of those questions. In the moment, they were just questions between two friends, but you’re dead on in your assessment.


Mary C. Schaefer  |  11 Jun 2015  |  Reply

Thanks you to my gifted advisor, for weighing in :)

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