Between political upheaval, stock market gyrations and general office politics, there’s plenty for any professional to be concerned about these days. As a business person, it’s part of your job to do rigorous risk assessments, but if you go too far and make yourself excessively anxious, you might disturb your own clear thinking and productive action.
Assuming that your worries—or those of your colleagues, subordinates or boss—are in roughly the normal range, using these five approaches will help you strike the right balance so you can move forward effectively.
Think through all the items and document them. Ask yourself or your worried associate: What are you actually worrying about? Generalized, vague worry is the most disruptive and gives you the least opportunity to resolve it. So get concrete. What is the worst that could happen? What are all the bad things that might happen? Once they come to mind, write them down or otherwise get them out of your head. You can keep a worry journal, make a list of nagging to dos or record a voice memo, but clear your mind.
Check your data. Can you be sure that your expectations are accurate? What makes you so sure? What’s the likelihood that your fears will actually come to pass? You’re a business person, so you’re accustomed to marshaling facts and figures to make a case. Then step back to consider how strong your case really is for whatever is bothering you. And stay aware of confirmation bias, so you’re careful to gather contrary points of view as well, not only the data that backs you up. In most cases, this examination will make it clear that the worry is not worth quite as much energy as you’re putting into it.
Assess the potential damage. What is the absolute worst thing that might happen? And if it does, what are all the logical ramifications? What are the greatest possible costs? Lay out the nitty-gritty of the disaster as if you were an inspector or an insurance adjustor so you know exactly what you might be dealing with. Keep documenting, and discount the risk whenever it’s clear that something is unlikely to happen.
Look for risk mitigation strategies. The fact that things could go awry and bad things could happen doesn’t mean you have to live passively with those potential consequences hanging over your head. What are all the things you can do to guard against disaster? How can you get help with these challenges? Write up your ideas, and decide whether you should be making a case for prevention, protection or clean-up as part of your readiness response. If you do this for all your worries, you’re likely to find many opportunities to strengthen your current operations and avoid most, if not all, negative outcomes.
Make a recovery and retrospective plan. Now that you’ve anticipated all the negative consequences, you can be ready for the necessary cleanup activities. Will you have to replace staff or equipment? Apologize to customers? The first stage is to recover yourself so you can lead and support others. Start by calming your body as well as your mind to make sure you’re back in control and others can feel comfortable to rely on you. And then work on moving forward. Rather than conducting a standard post-mortem (on the assumption that no one actually died), use one of the tools from Agile software development and conduct a retrospective, in which you ask what was handled well and what could have been handled better, so you can be fully prepared for the next event.
Any adherent of Murphy’s law will probably experience more stress than colleagues who tend to go with the flow. But if you take these five approaches, at least you’ll have the advantage of being more prepared for almost any eventuality, and strengthen your organization in the process.