What if scenarios and the paralysis of over-analysis
You’ve got the solution. It’s elegant in its simplicity. It covers the bases and any thinking person can execute the plan. Your If-Then questions have been answered and and a 10 year old can follow the instructions. Your plan is clear. It’s concise.
You are well past the brainstorming phase. It’s time for execution. You explain the idea, the plan, the word choice, and suddenly, without warning, there it is, “What if?” Not why, you answered the why, not even how, or who, but “What if?”
It all comes to screeching halt with the “What if?” of the literal over-thinker as they posit a problem that isn’t really a problem.
Your instructions say bring one casserole to share with our staff. “But…What if someone usually brings two and they get upset because they want to show up with two casseroles? I can’t upset those people.”
You’ve set a weekly Tuesday meeting for 8 a.m. “But…What if I have a dentist appointment on a Tuesday at 8 a.m.?”
Your checklist states clearly who can enter your facility.
“So I can let employees with badges in, and I can let visitors with proper credentials in, BUT… what if someone shows up and says they have an appointment, but I can’t find them on our list of daily scheduled visits? What if someone shows up and has a casserole? Do I let them in? What if a shark toting a missile shows up at the door? Do I let it in?”
For our team Missile Shark is code for this kind of But…what if.
“But…What if?” has the opposite impact of the improv flow of “Yes, AND…” it’s “Wait, but…insert something nonsensical that no reasonable person would utter here.”
So, where does the responsibility lie? Unfortunately, the explainer or teacher has to accommodate. When you have a chronic what-iffer on your hands, you need to be prepared, anticipate where you can, and be ready to answer their problem quickly and get back on task. If they are your customer, you need to build a relationship of trust and be firm and direct and at the same time make them comfortable. Even if that means going into greater detail than you think is necessary. You also have to help them understand that you are creating guidelines to help them make decisions to let the good in and keep the bad (like sharks with missiles) out.
Sometimes the “what if” is based totally in the realm of fantasy or comes from a really strange perspective. Occasionally, it can show you a crack in your communications strategy that you missed. Because of the latter case, bulldozing your what-iffer is not an answer no matter how frustrating they are. An open mind and willingness to entertain a little ridiculousness, and address it if necessary, only makes your message or process better.
In the meantime, watch out for missile-toting sharks. I hear they are cruising the neighborhood.