In a time before elections, Brexit and pandemics we still had a global issue impacting on the world’s economy; Stress.
A WHO led
study estimated that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion each year in lost productivity. (1) Stress can be caused when we feel like we are losing control, so when you face something so big it’s completely out of your control what can you do about it?
I’m going to share how to control the uncontrollable. A great example would be company A who in the first lock down reduced their absenteeism for their team of 250+ to zero and they said it was “In no small part down to our coaching with you.” I don’t share this so you think I’m awesome I share to prove the uncontrollable can be controlled.
When people feel like they can’t control a situation it can lead to stress, guilt, anxiety and many other negative emotions, put that in the working environment, and I’ve seen it cause;
Over working and burnout.
Them and Us mentality.
Anger management issues.
Lack of creativity.
And possibly worse of all a drop in profitability and sustainability for the company.
Let’s look at what you can do:
Is it true?
Working from home has featured in many coaching sessions this year often with clients stating there’s “Nothing I can do about this” or (my pet hate) “It is the way it is.” When I hear this statement, I know that this is not the case and that it’s the root cause of why the organisation is experiencing issues or not growing as they’d like.
So, the first thing you need to do is challenge what you believe to be true. Statements like;
I had to send those emails.
It’s always happened like that.
It wouldn’t work any other way.
I must work that many hours to get it all done.
These are signs that you need to challenge what’s believed to be true. You don’t try and stop the sun rising? Why, because you know it to be out of your control. Do you try and get out of the way of a stampeding bull? Why, because you believe you have control.
These are 2 obvious examples however at work they are more subtle and they are the statements that no one pays attention to. So, learn to!
When you find the hidden beliefs in your organisation your brain will instantly come to your aid with solutions, the tragedy is that these are rarely the right ones. When coaching a team at this stage it is only on page 2 or even page 3 of a flip chart will we discover the really powerful solutions. The reason?
Your brain likes to prove you right.
So when you say 1 plus 1, it’s already proudly given you the answer. This stops you from finding new more productive ways of working since your brain wants to keep you safe – believing you’ve done all you can and there’s nothing that can be done.
It gets some raised eyebrows when I get people to think with a magic wand. “If you could do anything to fix this, regardless of cost, time, skill what would you do? If bringing Elvis back from the dead would help, we’ve got magic so what would you do?”
This gets people laughing (Or embarrassed for me – that’s all good – challenging your beliefs is tough) and more relaxed so it’s easier to deal with challenges at work when you don’t feel responsible for them. If you are going to use this tool, ensure you ask follow up questions like;
“And what would that give you?”
“And why would you benefit from that?”
Or “And what would that lead to?”
This is where the powerful ideas are!
Shared goals – accepted and appreciated differences
In a company you’ll have those that are predominantly interested in the end result, those that are interested that it delivers to your customers what was promised and those that want to ensure it comes on budget.
Trying to get them to think differently won’t work and can cause a lot of stress as different departments feel they have no control over the outcome.
Enabling everyone to appreciate their different views and priorities and how they come to together for the result helps reduce stress, which leads us on to a massive issue when we feel we lack control..
By now you can see that control is not always about control but your perception of it. When you bring everyone together to a common goal that they feel invested in it can be hard to not end up with email mountains. I’ve never seen a team I couldn’t reduce their workload for. Time management improves and staff get happier when they don’t feel like they are constantly chasing their tail to do everything for everyone.
As a company create communication rules. (Go back to the crazy magic wand idea to achieve this.) They can include;
No emails to be sent on a Friday afternoon – stops the Sunday night panic to get ahead of the game.
Stop blanket “what do I do” emails and encourage “Here’s 3 solutions which would work best” emails?
Open door policy applies, Thursday afternoon is quiet afternoon – only email/call if it cannot wait – urgent.
Is it really urgent or are you trying to move it from your desk?
These aren’t comfortable conversations, but they help restore a sense of control. If…
Are enforced. Enforced sounds like a harsh word however to restore a sense of control in any environment if everyone creates the rules, everyone lives by them.
If after a few weeks you discover the rules aren’t working for you, don’t be frightened to go through the process again and see what’s working and what needs to alter.
A team of researchers from the University of Illinois studied occupational stress and employee well-being, those who have greater "boundary control" over their work and personal lives were better at creating a stress buffer that helped protect them from falling into a negative-rumination trap. (2) and research also teaches us that those that feel like they are respected, and part of the process are usually 90% more committed to a positive result, so it’s a process worth investing in.
And lastly, we all know that trying to have complete control is a cause of stress, therefore by lowering that need for control you can become more in control – ironic right?
Check out Polarity management by Barry Johnson PHD (3), his theory on managing uncontrollable situations has featured in more than a few coaching sessions. he teaches you a more powerful way to see the uncontrollable, instead of trying to control it, work on balancing it and says “those that develop the ability to distinguish between solvable problems and unsolvable polarities and have the ability to respond effectively to each will outperform those who can’t distinguish between them and who try to address all issues from a problem solving perspective.”
The good news for you and your team is that no matter what the future may throw at you and let’s be honest after this year it could be anything, with these skills you are ready for anything, resilient with an adaptive mindset ready to embrace the uncontrollable.