“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” was the iconic cry of the fabled character Chicken Little (or Chicken Licken, depending on where you grew up). The story is a parable of an individual who whips everyone around him (her) into hysteria over nothing. Unfortunately, this same behaviour can be witnessed in the workplace, with some coworkers seemingly intent on blowing everything out of proportion. Chicken Littles work their bosses into frenzies by telling them that things are horrible and that everything is going wrong. They thrive on stressing out their coworkers by painting worst-case scenarios at every opportunity.
How do you deal with a Chicken Little? One thing you don’t want to do is get into a battle of hypothetical situations – which is Chicken Little’s strong suit. So, for example, if Chicken Little says “What if they cancel the whole project – we’re all out of work!” you don’t want to respond by saying “That’s not going to happen.” Chicken Little will simply to respond with “why not?” which forces you to support your position. You’re now on the defensive as Chicken Little will just continue to throw out more hypothetical situations until you give up.
The best way to deal with Chicken Little’s hypothetical scenarios is by using a series of persistent questions followed by a BHSQ – a Big Honkin’ Setup Question. Here’s an example of how it works:
Chicken Little: “Oh, I can’t believe accounting messed this up! We are going to lose this customer!”
You (instead of arguing): “Wow, is our relationship with that customer really so shaky?”
Chicken Little: “It’s very competitive out there – we can’t afford to tick customers off!’
You (being persistent): But you said we’re going to lose this customer. Why do you believe we’ll be losing this customer?
Chicken Little (starting to scramble): Well, because there are six other places they can go to get the same service.
You (BHSQ): So what you’re saying is we are worse than all the other companies out there?
In this example, Chicken Little now only has one response, and that is to say, “No, that’s not what I said.” But the message comes across loud and clear that you’re not just accepting his “The Sky is Falling” prophecies at face value. Do this enough times, and you’ll find that Chicken Little will be careful not to proclaim doom and destruction quite so much when you’re around.