Dancing with a Dragon (Learning Not To Catastrophize)

For centuries, the lore of the Dragon has enchanted the world. Their fierceness and mythology have been the subject of compelling stories.

Dragons appear in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. They vary based on their ability to fight, whether they can blow fire, the size of their wings, and other distinct traits.

In business, the metaphor of the Dragon relates to the external forces and circumstances that come at us each and every day, preventing and distracting us from performing our jobs and reaching our goals, such as:

  •       A sudden increase in the cost of service,
  •       A competitor launching an effective marketing campaign,
  •       A negative social media post,
  •       An employee quitting without notice,
  •       A vendor missing an important deadline,
  •       A customer complaint,
  •       An unexpected lawsuit, or
  •       A sought-after prospect cancelling a much anticipated pitch.

These are all examples of real complications most leaders deal with, sometimes with only moments notice. These Dragon can’t be controlled absolutely but our reaction to them can be.

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A disappointed customer typically requires a quick response. A missed vendor deadline could have serious trickle-down effects that might require fast strategic changes. An employee termination usually must be addressed promptly. Whatever the Dragon is, it’s essential to distinguish the type of Dragon you are facing and to choose an appropriate weapon for battle.

Consider Dancing

Let’s say, for example, you have an important opportunity to meet with a prospective customer at a restaurant. You plan well in advance. You’ve anticipated the social nuances and mapped out your conversation strategy. You’ve anticipated success, the lucrative financial gains and the recognition that comes along with it. But, at the last minute, without explanation, they cancel the meeting, not offering to reschedule the meeting.

This is a Dragon and your response can be critical.

One reaction might be to admit failure and internalize the stress. You assume the cancellation is all about you. You imagine that they decided to “go another direction” or they learned something about you or your company that puts you out of the running. Perhaps a competitor muscled (or weaseled) their way in between you. In any event, you are stressed and disappointed. Your hair raises. Your anxiety deepens. Your expectations are crushed. These are natural reactions. We’ve all been there.

Another reaction may be to immediately call the prospect to reschedule the meeting, getting through to anyone that is available, as if it’s an emergency that needs to be solved. You could appear to be overly concerned, without a  well thought out response.

Imagining a Catastrophe

In many cases, we tend to catastrophize an unexpected change and internalize our failures.

We imagine the worst-case scenario, when there may be perfectly reasonable explanations for the meeting cancellation. The prospect may have had their own Dragon to deal with: an internal emergency, a double-booked meeting, a speeding ticket, a missed exit, or they simply may not have been ready to meet with you.  These circumstances happen all the time.

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Absorbing the stress of a Dragon and assuming the worst really has no benefit to anyone, especially yourself. It can cause a serious lack of focus, emotional distress and an overreaction.

Dragons can always be looked upon as opportunities, on the other hand. Following up with the prospect in a disarming, understanding manner, learning what their situation is, and reacting compassionately all may lead to endearment towards you. If they missed the appointment due to an emergency, for example, they may apologize and feel the need to make up for inconveniencing you.  If they are considering your proposal, you might ask for an opportunity to revisit. If they weren’t prepared for the meeting, being considerate and non-emotional may disarm them and eliminate any embarrassment.

Finding out what the reason for the cancellation was may allow you to regroup and take a more effective approach. You may learn something that you never would have otherwise. Responding thoughtfully with your response, not assuming the worst, may present opportunities you had not previously considered. The situation may actually turn in your favor, changing the balance of the relationship and giving you an upper hand when you meet.

Taking your time with a response allows you time to Dance with a Dragon.

Go Slay Dragons!


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