Don’t Duck the Dreaded Question


Anticipate it.

Whether you’re counseling an employee, making an unpopular announcement or just sharing tough news with your team, preparing for the worst will ensure you perform at your best.

You know that irritating whirr that happens when your computer is stuck in a loop? That’s your brain on indecision, and possibly even dread, consuming the CPU while you’re trying to do other things.

Like a parking lot in Manhattan, our brains have limited capacity. When we try to ignore the dreaded question, we use loads of processing power that could go to creative problem solving, or just having a good time.

Instead, think of the worst possible questions, the ones you hope no one will ask. This shouldn’t be hard if you just open up to the possibilities because your brain is ruminating on them in the background.

The dreaded questions are in there. And they’re going to be there using brain CPU until you or someone else brings them out into the open.

If you wait for someone else to bring it up, you could be the proverbial deer in the headlights. Or, worse: roadkill. That’s when you say something you really didn’t want to and, if you’re lucky, you get a chance to dig yourself out of a ditch.

Instead, prepare your answers in advance. Be honest. Be human. If you don’t know, say so. If there’s something you can’t talk about, say why and let them know if/when you will be able to talk about it.

There’s a great line from the movie Argo, about how the CIA sneaks six embassy staff out of Iran by pretending they’re a movie crew. When challenged that this hare-brained scheme will work, Ben Affleck’s character replies, “There are only bad options. It’s about finding the best one.” Bryan Cranston’s character seconds: “This is the best bad idea we have, sir. By far.”

Sometimes there is no ideal answer to a tough question, but when you prepare for the worst, you’re able to give your best.

Having those answers in your back pocket gives you the confidence to be positive and focused on what’s happening in the moment, not what you fear might happen in the future.