Do you find there’s more uncertainty in more aspects of your life today? It’s startling when you list all the possible changes that can affect your life or give you a feeling of being overwhelmed. The world is smaller and the amount of available information is astronomical, so international volatility, national politics and government, the economy, social life, work, religion and education can all affect your life. No area is immune. Psychological researchers tell us that our first reaction to change and uncertainly is likely to be fear and even anger. With so many domains involved, it’s no wonder there’s so much personal stress and anxiety. You may very well be experiencing some. But there’s hope!
Each of you has a technique that you use to cope with the changes that come your way, and each of you has a particular technique that you’ve used to deal with uncertainty. How are those techniques holding up against the barrage of changes? Is uncertainty building to challenge your ability to cope? There’s anticipating, planning ahead, getting more information and data, reframing problems to a more manageable level, and praying — all available to use. But where’s the opportunity here?
Fortunately not all pressures have the same priority, and you could ignore several. The opportunity lies in recognizing and controlling your emotional experience at the onset of a relevant dramatic change or the strong feelings associated with uncertainty. Recognize the emotional reaction early, and control as much as you can. Let it cause a delayed reaction. It’s easier when you have a high emotional intelligence — I’ll return to this.
If you can anticipate and label a change or uncertain situation, you can prepare. I’m convinced that you can — with some focused effort and thought — see the changes, however faint, on the horizon. The opportunity process is in gathering as much information as you can. The more information you can gather, the less the uncertainty and the better the decision making — and the better the plans. Stress is reduced, blood pressure lowered, with an opportunity to be calm and positive early.
You can put the change in a different perspective with flexible interpretations that are positive. Other interpretations allow you to learn, reflect and plan better. You are then better able to deal with future changes and less uncertainty. The economic change foreshadowed in Washington, D.C., is a good example of uncertainties worthy of attention and reflection to determine future actions and decisions. You can read each bill that’s proposed that may have implications for how you run your business. You can attend trade association meetings and professional service seminars, talk to peers and colleagues, and write out your initial strategy.
Before moving forward, there needs to be an inner calm that does not react to uncertainty with strong emotions, especially fear and anger. This reaction is one of seeing opportunity to learn and grow. A leader, after some reflection, reframes the circumstance into one of learning, changing or even ignoring. The process is simple: Receive the full information, question it to assure thorough understanding, reflect on several options, decide to either reframe or ignore, then implement a change process.
It’s hard to address how you can see the opportunities present in each circumstance. But it’s not impossible. When you perceive uncertainty as an opportunity to bring order out of chaos and be more creative and innovative in response, you’ve not let uncertainty wear you down. Further, calming the emotions is an important step here.
Emotional intelligence is about recognizing and controlling your emotions. It’s a hot topic today, and for good reason. It provides an assessment of and recommendations for how you can recognize the emotions in others, and recognize and control your own so you are better prepared to deal with change and uncertainty.
To summarize and expand, what are some of the ways you can adapt to turn unexpected changes and uncertainties into opportunities? Be calm. Marshall all your emotional resources, and focus them on alternative explanations and strategies to create opportunities from your analyses of each situation. Gain insight from encouraging discussions within your company about the significance of each major change, develop options to adopt, and prepare a plan of action. Vigilance helps if it’s focused on the right areas for employees, customers and suppliers. Here a focus on what helps the company grow with the changes helps reduce the uncertainty. Better analytics helps as well with a deeper sense of what’s happening and what to do about it.
There’s no golden rule just a determination to not be overwhelmed by change and the courage to admit that some change, whether internal or external, has no impact on what you’re doing.