Time Magazine famously names a Person of the Year in December. I’m naming uncertainty as the Word of Year now. We don’t even have to wait. I know, the future is always uncertain – the only time we have 20/20 vision is looking backwards. Yet, due to a list of factors as long as your arm (at least), the amount of uncertainty – especially the uncertainty at work and about work – has never been higher.
I’m guessing you agree with that statement. The question is, what do we do about it?
Acknowledge The Uncertainty
In your situation there might be several unknowns. While that number might be higher than usual, it isn’t like the future used to be clear and obvious. There has always been uncertainty. Take a breath, and realize you have dealt with uncertainties before, and you can do it again. And just because uncertainty is to be expected, don’t deny how the unknowns might be impacting you. Ignoring or denying the uncertainty isn’t a good strategy.
Once we choose to face the recognize the uncertainties, we will feel something. It might be anxiety, anger, concern, or worry. It might affect our levels of confidence, trust, and optimism. And since we are talking about uncertainty at work, this isn’t just our feelings, but the feelings of those around us. Our customers and colleagues, teammates, and leaders will all have feelings that matter. We will be more successful in moving through uncertainty when we acknowledge the emotions and mental states that the uncertainty evokes in each other. Recognize that how you are impacted might be different than others. One of the best things you can do is give space and opportunity for people to talk about how the uncertainty is impacting them and their work.
Remember Your Goals
Once we acknowledge the uncertainty and give people space to talk about it, the risk is that is ALL people will want to talk or think about! While we must talk about the uncertainties, we can’t become obsessed with them. Worry and the wringing of hands won’t help either. Perhaps the best antidote to that risk is to lift our thoughts and eyes to our goals. When we look at where we are heading and why, we put uncertainties in an effective perspective and give us a way to begin working with and through them. Any challenging situation is easier to live through when we know why we are in the challenging moment. The perspective that our goals provide us are critical to our mental state and improve our confidence and capabilities.
Once we remember our goals and aspirations, we can look at the uncertainties and start to build plans and start to look at options. Set aside the “what ifs” for a moment and look at the possible course for action that will move you forward toward your goals, despite the uncertainty. Don’t pressure yourself or team to create the plan, but rather consider possible plans. That way when roadblocks arise, you will have other options in your back pocket to consider. Create alternatives and consider your actions as tests or pilots as you move toward a desirable future.
Finding alternatives answers the “Now what?” question, and contingencies answer the “What if?” question. The “What if?” question is at the core of the emotional state in which uncertainty places us. Knowing that we have options if things go sideways or in unexpected directions is one of the best things we can do to buoy our confidence in the face of the uncertainty. As you create alternatives, think too about decision points and scenarios. If this happens, how would we adjust? If this occurs, which way would we pivot? Thinking about those possibilities helps to be more prepared for uncertainty – both mentally/emotionally, and in reality.
Perhaps the biggest mistake we can make when facing uncertainty is to do nothing. Feeling like we should or can wait until things become clear is a false hope. Certainly, there is a time to pause and let things settle down or to wait for a particular decision or event to unfold before moving. Beyond that though, becoming immobilized by fear, worry, or concern due to the uncertainty creates only one certainty – more fear, worry, and concern. Movement creates energy and momentum which makes us better prepared for changes. It is harder to start moving than to side-step a challenge or overcome an obstacle while you are moving. Waiting (too long) seldom is a good strategy in times of uncertainty.
Since we know uncertainty is expected, it makes sense to consciously work on getting more skilled and confident in dealing with it. This set of steps, practiced regularly as an individual and a team, will help you move forward toward your goals despite that uncertainty.
One way to overcome uncertainty at work is to remain a learner. At Virtual LeaderCon, September 12-15, you can learn from 30 leadership experts to help you overcome uncertainty at work. Whether you attend one selected session or the entire event, it is all free to participate in, and learn from, these experts all for free. You can also gain lifetime access to the recordings of anything you miss at an incredibly small investment. This may be the best thing you can do for yourself professionally this year. Details and all registration options (including FREE) are here.