Risk-Resiliency: How To Talk About 'It'

Regardless of the number of people involved, the stages of how to talk about risk are the same. The path to building risk-resiliency is one conversation at a time.
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How many risks do you take each week? If you are like most people you take a lot of risk just by being human. Driving in traffic you could get in an accident, in relationships in and outside of work you could be rejected, seen as not good enough or not loveable. You might mess up a presentation at work or school, and the list goes on. The thing is there is risk in the world - you are not going to change that - what you can do is alter your relationship with risk by building risk-resiliency.

Risk is interaction with uncertainty, and there is a lot of uncertainty in the world. Resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty. Risk-resiliency is the capacity to intentionally interact with and recover from the difficulties related to living with uncertainty. Developing this skill involves two key factors - the ability to have awareness around risk you are facing, followed by the ability to have conversations about it - with yourself and others.

Most of us are pretty good at seeing the risk - where the common struggle lies is in having the conversation. People tend to avoid "risk conversations" not because they don't want to talk about the risk being faced, but mostly because they don't know how to begin the conversation or what actually needs to be said.

Many times it's our fear of not being good enough or the idea we might fail at what we want to do that paralyzes us from starting these conversations. If we demystify and remove the drama, we can see the risk for what it is and break the conversation into 5 stages or series of smaller conversations.

Start at the beginning and develop awareness around the circumstance for yourself. This stage is to have a conversation with our self to create awareness around what is occurring, "This is the risk I am facing and this is how I feel about it."

Now that you are clear for yourself on the risk you are facing, the second stage is to have the conversation (even if it's uncomfortable) with others that need to be in the know. It's likely talking about risk won't ever feel totally comfortable, but with practice it can feel more normal to say, "Here is the risk I am / we are taking by doing xyz."

In the third stage, the conversation purpose is to set expectations with the necessary people who will be impacted by the risk you are taking. "Here is what might happen if xyz does not come together in the way we expect." This is where talking about risk gets real - as most times we want to avoid talking about or even acknowledging the possibility that what we are working on might fail. It is when we don't talk about it that we stay in fear and the risk begins to "own" us. (This might be a few different conversations with different people depending on the type of risk and the type of stakes involved.)

Now in the fourth stage, it's time to ask for support. What do you need from your key stakeholders to support you in taking this risk? "Here is what I need from you in order to move forward with this risk." It's common to struggle at this phase as many times we are not clear on the support we need because we get stuck in the fear associated with risk. By talking about the fear in setting expectations, it becomes easier to understand the support we need to move forward. Many times the support we need is just someone to listen to us or be patient with us while we learn something new.

This is where most people think risk-resiliency ends - we named it, we talked about it, set expectations and asked for support. But there is one more stage - close the loop. One of the most important parts of building risk-resiliency is to close the cycle and call out when the risk is over and debrief on the experience. Complete and acknowledge the cycle - especially when the stakes were high, it becomes really important to share in the success or understand what can be improved. All too often this step is missed and we are already on the next set of risks. The conversation here is "This is the risk I (we) took, and here is what happened as a result and this is the impact and here is where we go next."

For some risks you face you may be able to cover all the stages in one conversation with a single person or just with yourself. For other higher stake risks, like the ones we face in workplaces, this cycle may be months long and involve many stakeholders at different levels. Regardless of the number of people involved, the stages of how to talk about risk are the same. The path to building risk-resiliency is one conversation at a time.

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