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.