No one likes to contemplate letting go of the skills and behaviours that “got us here.” As individuals, we become psychologically attached to the status quo because it is familiar and comfortable. But even more difficult than fighting off the inertia of comfort, we find it hard to let go of the past because it is there that we’ve experienced personal success.
With its various hybrid working arrangements, the post-pandemic world of work will bring an increasing amount of the kind of change that stimulates the prefrontal cortex, an energy-intensive section of the brain responsible for insight and impulse control. But the prefrontal cortex is also directly linked to the amygdala (the brain’s fear circuitry, which in turn controls our “freeze, fight or flight” response), and when the prefrontal cortex is overwhelmed with too many complex and unfamiliar concepts, the amygdala connection gets kicked into high gear. As we continually adjust to whatever the future demands, all of us are then subject to the physical and psychological disorientation and pain that can manifest in anxiety, fear, depression, sadness, fatigue or anger.
It’s no wonder that we need more than logic and data to help us survive. We need personal strategies that strengthen our ability to thrive in changing times. Here are six of them for your consideration:
- Build your self-confidence
Confidence is the personality trait most responsible for an individual’s ability to deal well with difficult transitions. Confident people are self-motivated, have high self-esteem, and are willing to take risks because they have a deep belief in their own value.
Self-confidence starts with being aware of and playing to your strengths. Lee Strasberg, the famous acting teacher, once said, “I can train people in anything except that for which they have no talent.” Continual learning is a career-long process — but instead of focusing solely on your weaknesses (those areas where you have little or no talent), identify the specific competencies and accomplishments that make you special — and develop your natural abilities to the fullest.
- Create counterbalance
A definition of the word compensate is “to provide with a counterbalance or neutralizing device.” Change-adept individuals compensate for the demands and pressures of business by developing counterbalancing activities in other areas of their lives. They engage in exercise programs, mindfulness exercises, and healthy eating habits. They cultivate interests outside of work— sports, hobbies, art, music, etc. — that are personally fulfilling, and they have sources of emotional support. Because people with counterbalance have fuller, richer lives, they handle business-related stress better and are more effective at their jobs.
- Find your personal source of stability
One of the most memorable interviews I’ve conducted was with the CEO of a cellular telephone company: “I’ve got a stabilizing force in my life,” he told me. “It’s my stocking drawer.” I must have looked startled because the CEO continued quickly. “I mean it,” he said. “All hell can be breaking loose at work, but when I open my sock drawer to find everything in colour-coded, neat little piles, it does my heart good.”
I included this amusing story in my change leadership speeches for years, and only once has someone taken offence at it. I had addressed the national convention of a real estate firm and the sales manager from another state wanted to book a similar program for his division. “I really enjoyed your talk,” he said. “But when you work with my group, please don’t make fun of the sock drawer.”
I told the sales manager that I would be happy to do as he asked but was curious about the reason for his request. He looked at me sternly. “I don’t want you to make fun of it because it works! I tell all of my salespeople that if they are having a terrible day, where nothing is going right, they might as well stop and straighten out their underwear drawer.”
After thinking about that comment, I had to agree. It doesn’t matter if the source of counterbalance sounds silly to others; change-adept people know what works for them.
- Keep a positive attitude
With any disruptive change, dangers co-exist with opportunities. When change-adept people are asked for words they associate with the future’s chaotic workplace, they acknowledge the stress, uncertainty, pressure and disruption. But they also emphasize the benefits — opportunity, growth, excitement and challenges that will also be present.
You never know when a seemingly negative situation may turn out to be for the best. If your job radically changes, or even if it disappears, it may also be an excellent chance to learn something new, utilize previously untapped abilities, and meet new people. If you keep a positive attitude, you’ll be more likely to rally your energy toward furthering your career regardless of the circumstances.
- Stay in the game
In tough times, your first reaction may be to “hunker down.” Nothing could be less helpful. This is a time to become very visible in your organization. Volunteer for key committees and projects, take credit for your success and speak up in meetings. If you are working remotely, add a photo to your email signature, be one who takes meeting notes and distributes them, ask questions of senior leaders, display confident virtual body language, and send your boss a weekly summary of your accomplishments.
- Nurture collaboration
Whatever the future brings, your personal success will increasingly depend on how well you collaborate internally and externally to find innovative solutions to complex problems.
First, create social capital. Capital is defined as “accumulated wealth, especially as used to produce more wealth.” Social capital is the wealth (or benefit) that exists because of your social relationships. Think of social capital as the value created by your connections to others. There is no more valuable commodity in a chaotic business environment.
Second, remember that you can’t command collaboration and you can’t control knowledge sharing. But you can influence people to collaborate and share by creating an environment in which it is safe, enjoyable and beneficial to do so.
Third, build trust. Without trust, there is no true collaboration – and trust is no longer the result of positional power. It needs to be earned. You earn trust when you keep your word, share information, listen, respect diverse opinions and abilities, maintain confidentiality, support others, admit mistakes, are consistent in expressing and living your personal values. You also build trust when you deeply believe that the people on your team are equally trustworthy.
There is no doubt that the post-pandemic world will bring vast amounts of change. If we can remain confident, balanced, stable, positive, visible, and trusting, we will not only survive; we will thrive.
Troy Media columnist Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence. For interview requests, click here.
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