Uncertainty (again)

FogDidgemanpixabayUncertainty can have a powerful effect on your well being. In a Fast Company article, How Your Brain Reacts To Change, uncertainty looms large again. The article speaks to our desire for clarity during times of change and suggests that seeking out information in the face of uncertainty is a crucial way to adjust to change.

So often, when change occurs, the first instinct is to panic and go cruising into anxiety (the future) or negative comparisons (the past). When change unsettles you, seek out information in the present moment.

The best way to bring yourself to the present moment is to stop. Get comfortable with the practice of stopping – allowing yourself to be fully present to whatever is happening. From that place, your view is not distorted. You can choose your next steps and not be ruled by the fog of uncertainty.


photo: Didgeman, pixabay.com

What Are You Certain Of?

ID-10010752It is an interesting question. On one hand, you could answer, “I am certain of nothing. Everything changes.” On the other hand you could answer, “I am certain of myself and who I am.”

How do certainty and uncertainty affect you? Both can be illusions. Are you really 100% certain? Is there really as much uncertainty in the present moment as you think there is? Certainty-uncertainty – it’s a balance. Both are elements of our lives. Both affect us in positive and negative ways. Both can harm us, if we lose perspective.

What are you certain of?

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The Unknown As Adventure

ID-100280272Acceptance of the unknown is central to our ability to risk, to move forward and to master new skills and experiences. To succeed in work and life, we must face the fear we have of the unknown. It is not an easy task to let fear go completely, but we must face it and not let our fear of the unknown control how we work and live our lives.

One way to begin to release our fear is to start looking at the unknown as the adventure it truly is. We can create small unknowns such as taking a day off, making no plans and seeing what shows up. Or, leading your team in a time of uncertainty, by directly identifying the presence of the unknown and finding ways to navigate it and see it as an adventure The definition of adventure is: an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity. Note the use of the word hazardous in the definition. That speaks volumes about our society’s view of the unknown. We can prepare for hazards, yes but also put our focus on the exciting and unusual.

The unknown can lead to innovation, unexpected successes, new experiences and exciting discoveries. The next time you encounter the unknown, approach it as an adventure and see what happens.


photo: Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty

Our societal structure is set up to protect us. Overall, this is a very good thing. However, in dealing with uncertainty, there is not much this societal structure can do. Uncertainty will always be part of your reality.

Uncertainty can show up in your managing in a variety of ways. Here are some examples:

• There is a change of upper level personnel and you and your team have to justify your programs, without knowing if they will be accepted or rejected

• There are uncertainties inherent in work you are doing (for example, engineering designs that have not been tested in the field, but you are being pressured to get the product out in the market)

• The success of a program is dependent on its acceptance by clients or the public and you cannot predict, with 100% certainty, how it will be received

• You think one of your star performers is being recruited by a competitor or is actively looking for another position, but when you approach the subject, he or she is not forthcoming

So, as a person and as a manager, how do you get comfortable with uncertainty? A starting point is to accept that uncertainty is frequently present. By acknowledging the presence of uncertainty, you can deal with it. When you act as if it is not there and project certainty, uncertainty often shows up in dangerous ways. If uncertainty is present, bring it out in the open to both your team and your organization. Then, the truth is on the table and acknowledged. Develop your team’s skills for identifying assumptions (see previous blog post on developing assumptions ) . As you go forward, constantly revisit the uncertainties involved, to see if circumstances have changed, or if they may have lessened. Have your team be on the lookout for ways to decrease uncertainty in the project.

As you get comfortable with uncertainty, you may find that this enhances your performance by leaving open space, within which innovation can grow. By acknowledging uncertainty you will be acting from a stronger, not a weaker position. There is little gained in ignoring uncertainty and there is much to lose.

“Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Don’t let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity.” – R.I Fitzhenry

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Ten Ways To Make The Most Of Uncertainty

Uncertainty is not a stranger to those of us who manage. Although you may prefer certainty, when uncertainty rises, you can use it to your advantage. Here are ten ways to make the most of uncertainty.

1. Examine where you and your team feel most vulnerable. Take that information and make a plan to shore up areas of vulnerability for the future.

2. Foster creativity and innovation as you and your team deal with the uncertainty. When things are shaken up, the environment can be just right for innovation.

3. Use the time to build team cohesiveness. Listen to your team’s concerns, insights and ideas.

4. Explore the source of the uncertainty and let it inform how you go forward and deal with it when it comes again.

5. Create a new approach for your team that acknowledges the presence of uncertainty.

6. Create some assumptions within the uncertainty, to guide how you will go forward.

7. Identify a series of what – next scenarios and decide if any preparations are warranted.

8. Use the time to practice stress and anxiety reduction methods and see which work best for you and your team.

9. Let the uncertainty inform you by what it reveals concerning your organization.

10. Accept that uncertainty is almost always present in managing and find continuing ways to deal with it effectively.


photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Managing Your Team Through Turbulence

Inevitably, teams go through times of turbulence – unsteady movement, conflict or confusion. What is the best way to manage through turbulence?

The starting point is to acknowledge that the energy of your team has changed and you are managing in an unusual environment. Then, you can shift your focus to managing in that environment. When I was working for a federal agency, I was managing team turbulence as a new Presidential administration came in with a very different policy focus from the previous administration. At that time, considering we were a policy team, team members were understandably concerned for their jobs and uncertain what was to come. There were early signs from the new administration that our division could be eliminated.

As I focused on managing the team through this time, I openly acknowledged to them the uncertainty we were in and validated their feelings and concerns. We had a lot of pressure on us in our programs, so I had to find a way we could keep going and get our work done. Some team members were looking for transfers within the government or new positions. I met with the team and told them we had to strike a balance. I asked them to commit to spending the major part of the day on our programs. I told them I would be flexible if they had to spend some work time addressing their future. We charted our path forward together. I also emphasized the need for open communication. I would keep them informed of developments within the agency and asked them to let me know if they were seriously considering another position. I said that uncertainty was just that – uncertain. I did not want us reacting to something that would not materialize. We made it through. One team member did leave. Although the nature of our work changed to conform to the new administration’s policies, there were no layoffs.

When managing team turbulence, keep in mind the importance of acknowledging change, being flexible, setting a focus for the team and maintaining close communication. With this approach, you have good prospects for keeping the team functioning and achieving the best results for all of you.


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Managing Within Uncertainty

Managers make decisions within uncertainty daily. Sometimes, critical decisions made within uncertainty involve high risk for a manager. When I worked as a manager at The US Environmental Protection Agency, one of our team’s most challenging projects was to develop guidance for scientists and regulators addressing decision making under uncertainty. In the project, we put a lot of our focus on the assumptions scientists and regulators made for each decision. Good assumptions can mitigate the risks inherent in decision making within uncertainty. Ideally, you have the time to make solid, well-researched assumptions, but that is not always possible. So, what do you do? Fly by the seat of your pants? No, you do the best you can in the time available to you. Some strategies for making critical decisions in uncertainty: bring your team together and use all your brainpower to identify first the unknowns involved and then the risks; devise the best course of action in the time available to you; document the assumptions and identified risks involved in your decision; get the concurrence of upper management both on your decision and on going forward within uncertainty. The unknown can become a bit more known with time, but will often remain, and decisions must be made. Get as comfortable as you can with uncertainty. Create a strategy that helps you deal within it.


Photo: FreeDigital Photos.net