GUEST POST BY SONIA LAYNE-GARTSIDE, GLOBAL CONSULTANT, MASTER TRAINER, INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGNER AND STRATEGIST
We already know that our brains are hardwired to be fearful and anxious when presented with uncertainty, and for every individual some level of fear, and a certain amount of worry is necessary. Unlike organizations, where change comes like a slow-moving train, for individuals, change can hit like a bullet train. We all know someone who got up and went to the job he or she has been going to for the last 10 years, only to be told that as of that day, he or she was no longer needed. That person will tell you there was no warning. This is what uncertainty can mean to an individual, and why the fear that accompanies changes in organizations is legitimate. During periods of change, employees are correct to ask if there is a place for them in any new transition, because sometimes there isn’t. That is life.
However, in my experience, I have found that you cannot let fear dictate your choices. Yes, some fear and worry can be healthy, and it is what makes us adaptive: anticipating danger and taking preventative action. But too much focus on our fears can increase anxiety, impair our judgement and hinder good decision-making. So, the one thing you should do when you are confronted with uncertainty is to:
Don’t Act On Your Fears
For example, let us say that your leaders have recently announced a new operating system for the organization. The objective is to improve operations to ensure new growth. However, your leaders suck at explaining the vision behind the move and beyond a basic explanation of the new system, no one knows what or when anything will happen next. Instead of telling yourself: “This new system they want to introduce will never work, they don’t know what they are doing and will only cause me to do more work for less money.” All of which may be true but will not help you. Instead, acknowledge the underlying fear this uncertainty is causing in you: “My fear is that if you implement this new system really badly, I will not be able to navigate it as successfully as I do the current one, and I will not only lose my current gains, I might also get fired.” Once, you have recognized your fears, be willing to:
- Change your perspective: Determine if your fears are rational or irrational. Remember the earlier story of me in the kayak thinking I was going to drown? That was an irrational fear. I was looking out to sea during turbulent waves, feeling uncertain and that at any moment the kayak would overturn and I would be a castaway lost at sea. The instructor had to tell me to turn my head, look back to the shore and see that we were not that far away. I was letting my fears overwhelm me. Where are you looking in your period of uncertainty? Like me, do you need to turn your head (i.e. change your perspective) to see a completely different and more realistic view of the situation? Your perspective not only changes what you see, but also what you do and what you create in your life.
- If it is a rational fear, then determine what your hopes are for the situation. Write down the answer to the question: What do I hope to learn and gain from this situation? When you have your list of hopes, then focus your energies on problem-solving how you can accomplish them. In our example, your hope may be to simply not get fired, problem-solve how you can avoid this: E.g. find out more about the proposed change, determine what new skills and abilities you will need, seek training that will fill skill gaps, talk to people in your network who have gone through similar changes, volunteer to be on any committee formed to make the new system work, etc. The more you familiarize yourself with the thing you do not know, the more your fears will disappear.
Feeling fear doesn’t mean things are not working out; oftentimes the bigger your goals, the bigger your fears. But you do not get over fear by sitting back and waiting for the fear to subside. You reduce anxiety by acting on the hopes and goals you have for the situation. Be guided by what you want to accomplish, and not what you wish to avoid.
Most of the worries we have during periods of uncertainty often begin with us trying to control people and events over which we have little to no control. I learned that lesson when I first went bungee jumping. For those of us afraid of heights, you would think that the scariest part is looking down just before you jumped. That’s extremely scary, but even scarier is when you first jump off. You instinctively try to control and direct how you fall. But jumping off a building more than 1000 ft. in the air and trying to control gravity as you fall does not work. I have no control. I can control when and how I jump off, but not when I’m free-falling down. In life, it’s the same way.
Sonia Layne-Gartside is a dynamic and results-oriented global Consultant, Master Trainer, Instructional Designer and Strategist. She partners with leaders to achieve business results by improving the performance of people and the systems they work in. Her work involves developing leaders, creating targeted learning solutions, Instructional design, leading Change management initiatives, coaching executives, undertaking business analyses and developing strategy. Sonia is the author of the book Workplace Anxiety: How to Refuel and Re-Engage.