One of the characteristics of being human is our large complex brain. I’d allege we are also characterized by our immense scope of unbridled emotions.
Fear, hate, joy, love, pleasure, pain and shame are all subjective based on an individual’s experience, knowledge and perception of such emotions. It takes us beyond the scope of descriptive Homo sapien traits and instead instills our humanity.
But perception, fear and emotion can cause a massive avalanche when it comes to assuming responsibility and decision-making in business. And, because this slide can become so treacherous, there’s actually a name for it: the slippery slope.
The Slippery Slope
In critical thinking, the slippery slope argument asserts that a small first step leads to a chain reaction of increasingly negative outcomes. Essentially, a slippery slope assumes a series of unfortunate events will stem from a single choice. But this can bias your decision-making from one that has a successful end in mind to a hypothetical catastrophe, which might be based on unfounded proof.
Some examples of this type of bias could include:
• “If I use social media for business, I will be surveilled and begin habitually using a platform that distracts me from daily obligations. Therefore, I will not use social media.”
• “If I get a credit card for business, I won’t realize how much I charge, and the credit card companies will charge outrageous interest rates that chip away at my profit. Therefore, I will not fall for the business credit trap.”
• “I’m miserable and devalued in my current career; however, if I start the business of my dreams, I’ll be starting from scratch. There’s so much competition that it will be hard to get customers and keep the bills paid. If I fail, I’ll lose all respect I’ve worked so hard to build over the years. I should probably just stick out this job a little longer.”
Do any of these sound familiar?
As an entrepreneur and coach, I’ve found that many rational, educated, business-minded professionals often inject these fallacies into the course of their days. The problem with these negative biases is they infiltrate our thoughts and can impede our success. As a leader in your organization, the trick is recognizing and addressing the slippery slopes before you start losing traction.
Studying human behavior and arguments gave me a few insider tips for how to handle these situations, and I’ve compiled them here in an easy-to-remember acronym: WHOP.
• Weakest Point Elimination: Recognize and cast out the weakest point of the argument. From the credit card example above, the weakest point might be assuming that you will be charged an overwhelming amount of interest by the credit card company. But not every business owner neglects spending habits and is unable to pay off the credit card balance at the end of the month.
• Highlighting The Gap: Highlighting all the events that must bridge the gap between the initial trigger and the hypothetical conclusion is a good way to point out all the opportunities for the same situation to go right versus wrong. It’s a far cry to go from accepting a credit line to preparing for bankruptcy, for instance.
• Options To Consider: Tell a new story with a hero’s journey pointing out any obvious, positive options that could create an optimal hypothesis. The goal is to exhibit how a sequence of events isn’t a guarantee the negative assumption will come to life. For example: “If I apply for business credit, I’ll be managing and tracking spending habits. This allows me to better manage expenses and highlight areas of opportunity to improve profit. It also gives me the credit history to begin leveraging debt correctly and expand the business faster.”
• Probability Of Loss: No one has a magic eight ball to predict the future (yet). Nevertheless, probabilities can help you forecast based on the chance of them occurring. But here’s the kicker: In my experience, the longer a subjective chain of events, the less likely the stated hypothesis will actually happen. In layman’s terms, expect the unexpected. Take the entrepreneur example. You might be thinking:
• If I start the business of my dreams, I’ll be starting from scratch.
• There’s too much competition.
• I won’t be able to get customers.
• I won’t be able to pay the bills.
• I’ll lose all respect.
Sure, there’s a larger chance you might have to start from scratch, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be too much competition. Further, having some competition doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get customers. And as you gain customers, the lower your chances will be of failing to pay your bills. In turn, there’s even less of a chance you’ll “lose all respect.”
In other words, there’s a small chance that your dream of entrepreneurship will go down this exact slippery slope of failure. Personally, I’d hedge my bets that you will veer from this trajectory.
So, the next time you start beating yourself down with a slippery slope of arguments about why something won’t work, remember WHOP, and identify all the reasons it will.
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