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Learn how you can equip your team with the skills required to negotiate uncertainty in the workplace so they can thrive, rather than simply survive.

It’s great to have Brené Brown’s podcast back, featuring futurist Amy Webb who discusses how to navigate the world that lies ahead of us.

Webb likened the road ahead, especially related to tech advancements, to navigating icy conditions while driving. She said our instinct is to slam on the brakes to make it stop, but actually the sensation of spinning out of control will cease when we steer into the slide and embrace the uncertainty.

This is a terrifying concept for most of us, including me. She went on to explain that when we do this, it allows us to slow down time and reduce uncertainty. We do this by making numerous tiny decisions that acknowledge the multitude of variables we can’t entirely control, while still acknowledging there will always be an uncertain element.

As a manager, how do you equip your team to be able to steer through the icy situation and not slam on the brakes?

In practical terms what does this actually entail within the workplace? Knowing that steering into the slide and embracing the uncertainty is terrifying for many. How can you equip your team with the skills required to negotiate this treacherous terrain?

Brown has proposed that the essential skill set for navigating these challenges includes deep thinking, critical thinking, anticipatory thinking and the ability to manage paradoxes. It’s certainly a formidable list.

Now, when it comes to identifying the skills your team needs to not just survive but thrive in this environment, what practical factors should you consider within your workplace?

1. PREVENT FIXATING ON THE WORST OUTCOMES

When you encounter icy conditions, how do you prevent your mind from fixating on the worst possible outcome? We are aware of our negative bias; how can we steer clear of this?

2. NAVIGATING UNFORESEEN DANGER

In unforeseen, dangerous situations, our cortisol and adrenaline levels spike. However, when they dominate, we are more likely to react impulsively rather than consider long-term consequences and respond thoughtfully – a scenario ill-suited for navigating complex situations.

3. ADDRESSING ADRENALINE RESPONSES

When adrenaline surges, we can fall into a flight, fight or freeze response.

• Freezing may lead us to isolate ourselves to save face without revealing our distress to others.

• Fighting might make us defensive, undermining teamwork.

• Flight could manifest as ignoring the situation altogether, a tactic we know is ineffective.

Confidence comes from knowing you have the skills to negotiate potentially treacherous terrain ahead, which is how our working work can feel. Let’s face it, it is frequently described  as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA).

As a manager, how do you equip your team to be able to steer through the icy situation and not slam on the brakes?

Strategies for Stability in Uncertain Times

CALL IN THE TRIBE

We function better as a tribe; we don’t have to do this alone. When the change feels rapid and unrelenting, we might feel exposed without all the answers (god forbid), but with self-compassion, remind yourself it’s okay not to have all the answers.

Ask yourself, could my tribe/network provide good counsel? It could be someone who is a specialist in the area or simply a great listener who asks fantastic questions and helps you to uncover a greater understanding of the challenge at hand.

PERSPECTIVE TAKING

Broaden our outlook. We tend to narrow quickly to one scenario. How can we open our minds to various scenarios? Consider the phrase, “When one door closes, another opens.” Even asking ourselves, “What is the next door opening?”

This might help us feel more secure in flux, knowing there is a way forward.

WHITEBOARD IT

Write down all possible solutions; you’ll be surprised at how many you come up with. We can lock into one scenario quickly.

ASK A QUESTION

Sometimes, when we are overwhelmed we freeze in fight-flight-freeze mode. Unfortunately, not everyone has someone to talk to, but you can ask yourself, “If this were someone else, what advice would I give them?”

Sometimes we just need to pause. When I say this to people, they immediately look at me as if I have lost my mind.

You will be surprised at what sage advice you would be able to provide someone else. Alternatively journaling may be helpful; many people resist this, but it helps us move past the looping stories in our brains to delve a bit deeper into the unknowns we are facing.

NAME IT

Our brains crave certainty; naming things can help us feel like we have a handle on the situation, supporting our nervous system when it’s frayed. Your team member might say to themselves, “This isn’t going as I expected, and it makes me feel uncomfortable.”

GET BACK IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT

In a VUCA world, we may not feel in control, but we can ask ourselves, “What’s the next step?” This might mean continuing with a program, talking to someone, researching or taking a walk to avoid making decisions while we are feeling heightened.

This might be a small step but with it we will feel more active in our own lives and this feels good.

RECOGNIZE YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS

Slowly remind yourself, “I’ve gotten through worse than this,” and recall tough times. During icy moments, we forget our achievements and capabilities.

COME INTO THE PRESENT

Avoid being caught up in a story; come into the now. Take a deep breath, feel your body in the chair, and acknowledge the present moment. This is to ensure that our amygdala is not running the show and with it driving us to react rather than respond, keeping in mind long-term consequences.

MAKE SPACE

Sometimes we just need to pause. When I say this to people, they immediately look at me as if I have lost my mind. I can hear their internal chatter saying to me, “Don’t you know how busy I am?”

But what I know for absolute sure is that once you have snapped at a coworker or sent an ill-considered email, it can easily take six months to walk that back. So, you might like to consider the difference between a timeout of 10 minutes and six months of your time.

We function better as a tribe; we don’t have to do this alone.

This scenario of skating along the ice could very well be the reality of the working world going forward.  We are in a phase of transition.

Hopefully, we can equip our teams so that they know how to manage unhelpful thoughts, understand when the temperature rises what to do and most importantly feel they have access to a tribe for support.

With these practical skills in place your team will be able focus on the challenges they face, manage the emotional rollercoaster of change and collaborate together as the future concerns will require collective efforts to find solutions.

Sharon Darmody

Contributor Collective Member

Sharon Darmody is an occupational and organizational therapist and coach with 25 years of experience. She is also an author, a Co-Founder of Strive Occupational Rehabilitation and has served on the Australian Rehabilitation Providers Association. Her new book, ‘Work your MAGIC’ is designed for leaders to help teams and individuals rediscover what makes work, work again. For more information visit https://www.sharondarmody.com/

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