The Worst That Could Happen

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Twice today I have had clients ask advice on tough choices they did not want to have to make.

In both cases, I shared a method that has made decision-making far simpler in my own life.  So I thought, if the gods are having me share this method twice in one day, under very different circumstances each time, perhaps that means I am supposed to share it with everyone!  So here goes:

We are always taught to weigh the pros and cons of decisions.  List one, list the other, and choose.  But that doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work because the thing that makes decision-making hard is not logic, but fear.  What if I mess up?  What if it’s the wrong choice?  The pros are therefore often discounted, because we don’t care about the benefit – we care about the potential horror story if it is the wrong decision!

So here is a two-step decision-making question I learned to ask a long time ago.

1) For each scenario, what is the worst that could happen?

2) Then which of those worst case scenarios am I more able / willing to live with?

Here’s one of the stories from today:  A client whose organization was being hit hard by the economy was being “urged” by both a board member and a major donor to meet with someone the ED knew might lead to a political nightmare.  (Ok, so it was a bit more than ‘urging’…)  How could the ED explain that despite their short-term financial woes and despite the good intentions of the parties involved, this meeting had the word “disaster” written all over it?

I encouraged the ED to put off the meeting, making the excuse that this is their busiest time of year (that happens to be true).  I urged him to spend the next month or so getting the organization to a position where the meeting simply would not be needed anymore.  But he was still in turmoil.

So I asked Question #1:  What’s the worst that could happen if you meet with that person? (His answer cannot be printed here!).

Then I asked, “And what’s the worst that could happen if you put off the meeting until you have a chance to regroup?”

He thought for a bit, then told me, “I guess the worst is that I would eventually have the meeting. but that we would be in a much stronger position than we are now!”

Question 2 became a moot point.  Which was the “worst case” he would be willing to live with?  A no-brainer.

After a second conversation like this first one, I realized – when you end up giving the same advice twice in one day under very different circumstances, the universe is clearly saying, “It’s time to share this.”

So if this helps you with a decision, I hope you will share it with us as well!  (I am happy to make any of those stories anonymous – just let me know!)

3 thoughts on “The Worst That Could Happen”

  1. Those are words of wisdom, Hildy. Helpful when applied in our personal lives, as well as in our professional ones. Staying away from “either/or” thinking has the potential to lead us to better solutions to challenging issues!

    Glad those folks had you to turn to.


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