RISK is definitely a four-letter word for most of us.
Like FEAR. Or PAIN.
Truth is, we live in a world where risk is inevitable, especially in our world of work.
But with all the risk surrounding us, how do we assess it, evaluate it, and make brave decisions without being stupid?
The secret is to ask the right questions to assess whether the risk in front of you today is the right one for you tomorrow.
(Want to work through these questions in greater detail? Get my free Risk Evaluator Worksheet here.)
How to Assess Risk in Your Career
If you’re considering taking a risk in your career, good for you! Before you talk yourself out of it—or dive in too quickly without doing your homework—use these four key questions to confirm whether the risk you’re considering is the right risk for you.
Question 1. How well do I really understand the risk?
- It’s too risky to change jobs in today’s market since there aren’t many opportunities. I’d better just stick it out where I am.
- If I ask my manager for a different work arrangement, she’ll get ticked off–after all, it’s our busy time of year.
- I can’t just show up at the planning meeting, even though it’s my department. and I’ll eventually be responsible for the implementation. I wasn’t invited–there must be a reason.
What do these statements have in common?
They’re all are based on perception, and not fact. They could be right–but they also could be wrong.
How do you know for sure the thing that you are worried about is real?
What observable data (translation: stuff you’ve directly experienced) do you have that the tragic results you’re predicting have any basis in truth?
P.S.: “I just know” isn’t a satisfactory answer here.
It’s time to get clear about what the risk really is.
Define it, as specifically as you can.
Is it THIS, or THAT? What’s the ACTION? What’s the CHOICE?
Make sure you understand what risk you’re really considering, and get honest with what’s known versus where you’re truly guessing or making assumptions.
I won’t kid you–this alone can take work. We often hide behind our assumptions about risks, because looking it in the face can seem too scary.
But if you’re really serious about moving forward, it’s time to clarify the risk so you can evaluate it fairly.
Question 2. What’s the worst thing that could happen if you took the risk, and what’s the reality?
Let’s play the extreme game. What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen if you moved forward with this risk?
Playing along, one of my coaching clients said that if she took the risk she was considering: interviewing for an open opportunity in another department–that the very worst thing that could happen was that her boss would get mad, think her a traitor, and eventually fire her.
Now, let’s look at the reality:
- This person is a high performer in her organization, with many documented successes. She makes her boss look good.
- She has expertise in an area that would be hard to replace should she leave.
- Her current relationship with her manager is respectful–they’re not huggy buddies, but their interactions are calm and professional, even when they disagree.
- She’s already shared with her manager that she’s been thinking about what opportunities may be next for her–and her manager didn’t go ballistic.
- Finally, legally, even in so-called “right to work” states, the legal environment is leaning toward defending employees, not employers, in wrongful termination lawsuits. That means most companies aren’t making willy-nilly decisions to let people go based on making someone mad–the legal implications of fighting a potential suit are too high. (Managers, this is why your HR team pushes you to document, document, document–especially if you’re managing a performance problem. It’s also good business.)
So, her “worst thing that could happen” was highly likely not to happen.
Our brains are programmed to avoid pain, and so we often get held back by even the sniff of the worst case scenario. But when we look at it honestly, the worst case is typically not all that bad.
Question 3. What’s already in place to support you if the worst case scenario happened?
Let’s pick up on the last scenario–
So, IF my client got fired (which we now know is a low probability), THEN she’d be forced to spend time connecting with others in her field of expertise and looking at what else might be out there. And that’s a bad thing because . . . .??
AND, this person knows she already had a streamlined financial lifestyle and savings to support herself for more than a year in the extreme case that she ever had to. Hmmm. . . .
PLUS, this person has had recruiters and other companies reach to her in the past, and while the past is not an indicator of the future, it is proof that at some point, someone was interested in talking to her. Proof that it could happen again.
Doesn’t sound too awful, does it?
Try this method of thinking on your own risk.
What’s already in place for you if your worse fears would come true? Enlist a supportive friend to help you blast through assumptions and see the reality of what you actually have in place.
Often, you’re more prepared for the fallout of taking a risk than you think.
Question 4. What might be possible if you took the risk?
I coached a successful consultant recently who had a passion project she wanted to start, but she kept holding herself back.
After hearing her fears and hesitations, I asked, “What good things can happen as a result of this work?”
She paused, and thought.
Soon, she had a long laundry list of remarkable, exciting, and valuable outcomes that she knew could happen when this passion project work was underway.
And getting to those results seemed a damn fine reason to get started.
It’s easy to talk ourselves out of any risk. But the reason it’s intriguing to us in the first place is the possibility of something better, greater, more fun, more interesting, more worth our time on earth.
Don’t underestimate the value of what could be.
What might be possible if YOU took the risk you were considering? Don’t dismiss it out of hand. Get my free Risk Evaluator Worksheet here.
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