Culture University

dealing with uncertainty

Dealing with Uncertainty in an Era of Disruption

By Larry Senn

A person’s ability to deal with uncertainty is influenced by many factors. Those who are older may be able to deal with uncertainty better because they have experienced more uncertainty and made it through, and often things turned out OK—perhaps the way they’re supposed to. Those who practice faith or religion may be comfortable in uncertainty because they have a higher power to look to.

Thoughts create our moods and behavior

If you put age and religion aside, a person’s ability to deal with uncertainty depends not so much on the external circumstances, but on what they make of the circumstances in their thinking. Our thoughts create our experience of life. Worried thoughts create worried feelings, while hopeful thoughts create hopeful feelings. Of course, there are circumstances out of our control that can cause worry and distress: natural disasters, unexpected death, financial insecurity, and other similar crises. Yet, even though these events may be out of our control, we do have control over our reaction. Our reality is based on our thoughts.


Say, for example, that you and a coworker hear that your company is planning a round of layoffs. The two of you both have mortgages, children, and other financial responsibilities, but you immediately descend into a panicked spiral. “My life is ruined, we won’t be able to keep the house, my kids won’t be able to go to college…” are some of the thoughts you go through. You look over and see you coworker, who looks unfazed by the whole issue.

Maintaining a positive outlook is essential

Your coworker could be making a conscious effort to look at the positive aspects in her life. She might turn to gratitude about her kids and that everyone is healthy. Instead of worrying about her job, she may turn to optimism when she realizes that she’s not a huge fan of her job anyway and gets excited about the potential new prospects. Both people are dealing with the exact same situation of uncertainty, but they’re having very different experiences.

“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” -Marcus Aurelius

The benefits of staying positive through uncertainty are not just about feeling better—they impact the outcome. You’ll be better able to seek support from others when you remain positive, as people tend to gravitate towards positive people. If you can stay positive and keep your mental traction through crises, you’ll be much more able to come up with solutions to problems and solve key issues. This is true in life and in business.

Advice for uncertain times

If you find yourself in an uncertain situation or crisis, consider these pointers that have worked for my team and me, and many of our clients:

  • Mood ElevatorTake a moment to reflect on a few things you’re grateful for. No matter what is going on, we all have things to be grateful for—this is a powerful mood tonic. A gratitude perspective comes through a practice of looking at what we do appreciate about our lives and other people versus looking at what we lack. A grateful state of mind is a quieter, more centered mind. This mindset contributes to many aspects of a healthy workplace culture, including:
    • Better collaboration and decisions for the greater good
    • A better customer experience
    • Higher employee engagement
    • More creativity and innovation
    • Added resilience in the face of challenges
    • A positive organizational spirit
  • Surround yourself with positive people. Studies have shown that moods are contagious, so by being around those who make you feel good, your mood will go up. The central finding of my doctoral dissertation on organizational culture published over 30 years ago was that an organization’s culture and climate is most greatly influenced by the shadow of its leaders. The biggest shadow we bring to work each day is our state of mind or mood. It is also the biggest one we carry home at night. That should be food for thought for all of us.
  • Take care of yourself physically. You’re more likely to feel worried and anxious when you’re low on sleep, eating poorly, and not exercising. Our physical state plays a role in our thinking. When we’re tired and worn down, we’re more vulnerable to lower-quality thinking and lower moods. I am of the belief that in order to be your best mentally, you have to be your best physically.

You choose how to respond

Recognize that in life and business, a fair amount of surprises will cross your path, and some may come with immense challenges. When that happens, remember: Stop. Think. Decide. Only you can make a conscious decision to take a more effective course of action.

If you experienced a sudden crisis in business or in life, how did you overcome your circumstance?

 

Editor’s Note: Since its founding in 1978, Senn Delaney has had a singular focus: To create healthy, high-performance cultures. Led and chaired by Dr. Larry Senn, the premier culture-shaping consultancy celebrates 40 years of helping corporate leaders in this endeavor. Larry has shared his knowledge through our blogs (ConstructiveCulture and CultureUniversity) and at our annual culture conference. We are honored again to share his wisdom with our readers and colleagues through this blog post.

 

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