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How You Can Manage Uncertainty At Work


Read the news, or indeed any professional publication, and it becomes clear that change is an intrinsic part of modern life. What’s more, the change is increasingly rapid, which has prompted recent studies into the future of work to suggest that the key skill to have is adaptability rather than anything subject specific.

See Also: How Uncertainty Makes Us Work Harder

Of course, with rapid change comes a natural sense of uncertainty as it’s very difficult to predict what will come next. Studies have shown that we’re generally much less anxious about unpleasant events in the future if we have some time to mentally prepare. Uncertainty about those events, however, not only renders them impossible to control, but also makes it much harder to mentally prepare for them.

Many of us react to such uncertainty by worrying about it, or more specifically about the possible risks posed by the uncertainty. What if I get passed over for that promotion? What if a robot takes my job? That sort of thing. This can be a useful emotion if it provokes us to adapt our behaviour according to the risk we face, but it can turn chronic and prompt us to freeze instead.

Indeed, there have been various suggestions that a dislike of uncertainty is connected with certain mental issues, such as social anxiety, depression and even eating disorders.

Trying to Control the Uncertain

Problems also tend to arise when we attempt to mitigate the risk of uncertainty by trying to control it. The more we do this, the less able we are to cope with uncertainty. What’s more, if we focus instead on trying to avoid distress in the first place, this tends to result in us stopping the kind of personal development that will allow us to roll with the uncertainty. It becomes a vicious cycle as our confidence drops, which makes it harder to deal with future uncertainty, and so on.

How You Can Manage Uncertainty More Effectively

With uncertainty a constant force in our lives, how can we deal with it more effectively?  Here are a few tips that may help:

  1. Determine your priorities. With so much uncertainty out there, you need to focus your energies on the things that really matter. So you’ll need to triage the risks you face and focus in on those that really matter.
  2. Take positive actions. Try and understand the impact uncertainty has on you, and act accordingly. If it’s causing you stress, try and do the things that help you to de-stress, whether that’s going for a walk, doing some exercise, meditating or whatever works for you.
  3. Analyse your own thoughts. It’s natural that now and then we’ll make errors in our reasoning. For instance, we might exaggerate the potential for things to go wrong. Once you’re aware of this risk though, you can start to mitigate for it.
  4. Don’t bottle things up. It’s ok to have negative thoughts or to get angry in the face of uncertainty. Having someone to unload to, whether that’s a mentor, a partner or a friend, can be a great help to get the negative thoughts out before moving on to constructive responses.

See Also: 5 “What If” Dilemmas you are Most likely to have in your Career

These are approaches that have worked for me. How do you currently deal with the uncertainties in your professional life? Your thoughts and comments below please...

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