Acting thoughtlessly can damage a reputation. So can overthinking a problem.
Karen Natzel, a former colleague who bills herself as a business therapist, says in her blog, “While it’s good to be thoughtful, reflective, creative and analytical, if we stay in our head too much, we miss the moment – and quite possibly miss an opportunity to impact.”
Natzel argues for replacing overthinking with “expansive thinking,” which involves collaboration, fresh thinking and thinking outside the box. “By doing so, you start solving problems in new ways – possibly even getting ahead of the problem by addressing the real issues, not just the symptoms.”
Expansive thinking, she says, requires “openness, courage and a bit of humility.” Expansive thinking works best, she adds, when you collaborate with a thinking partner or partners that “focuses your thoughts into a more productive zone.”
Overthinking often occurs when people face multiple challenges, which causes stress and indecision. It also can result when a response to a challenge may be unpopular and contentious. “Professionals who care about their work and their reputation tend to have a strong desire to get it right, which often means they experience an undercurrent of fear of making a mistake or looking foolish or incompetent,” Natzel writes.
“Our brains have the power to conjure up scenarios that inform our opinions and beliefs, direct our actions, define our identities and create our realities,” she says. “We can use our thinking to solve problems or get stuck in a destructive pattern.”
Natzel’s advice includes bringing a “bias for decisive action” to each challenge, delegating tasks to expedite decision-making, looking for perspective, setting time boundaries and keeping priorities clearly in mind. She also says it doesn’t hurt to take a walk when you are stumped. “The brain functions better when we move,” she says.
A core skill to practice, Natzel insists, is paying attention. “By observing the nuances, the relationships, the energy of a room, you can get outside of your head and gain valuable insights. When you are focused in the moment, you can let go of distractions and bring clarity to your thinking.”
Organizations facing challenging circumstances, including a crisis, should heed Natzel’s advice about expansive thinking. In the digital age, time is the enemy of careful consideration. Overthinking a response can nullify the impact of a response because it comes too late or is outstripped by new developments. In this context, expansive thinking would include advance thinking – anticipating potential crisis scenarios and identifying the go-to resources for a thoughtful, timely response.
Like other forms of expansive thinking, advance thinking demands collaboration to identify all realistic and consequential crisis scenarios and to project what would be needed to respond quickly and effectively. Instead of overthinking how to write a placeholder statement, which chances are won’t be relevant or responsive, harness group brain power to foresee consequences and, where possible, to identify immediate actions that would reduce future risk.
Overthinking is akin to not thinking. Your reputation is too valuable to waste by avoiding the necessary thinking to protect it.
Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm’s PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.