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Regaining Resiliency in Unreliable Times
By Linda J. Miller

What is happening in this world? What is happening in organizations across the
country? What about in your own job? We don’t need to rehash the September events
nor the ramifications we’re seeing in all the news sources. We’re hearing enough about that.

The bottom line is that while the country emerges from a state of shock, things are changing in the workplace: organizational profitability, job security, if and how we travel, buying decisions, and reprioritizing. Our illusion of security has been shattered.

So what’s to be done to maintain some semblance of sanity is this time of workplace change? Other than praying for world peace and sending our opinions and comments to government representatives, there may not be much we can do at the world level. However, there may be some things that we can do in the organization and in your job.

For those who are ready to look ahead, which not everyone will be, we thought it
timely to start looking at how, at the individual level, we can get un-stuck, resume our contribution to the workplace and become resilient once again. Our hypothesis is that if individuals become un-stuck, they’ll contribute more fully to their teams, thus aiding their organization to be more productive. To that end, you will find several areas to consider along with questions to ask yourself and suggestions that are action oriented. Feel
free to pick and choose those that apply, and save the others for a different time when they may be more relevant.

Managing Conflicting Realities

Picture two boats moving almost parallel along the sea of work-life. Now picture yourself with one foot in each boat as they begin to take divergent paths. For the sake of this metaphor, let’s just say that one boat is labeled “Fear” and the other is “Faith That We Can Make It Through This Time.” As the boats move further apart, it’s difficult to manage them both.

What occurred on September 11th clearly marked for many of us the stark truth that in order to continue striving forward, we must effectively learn how to manage conflicting realities. I think we probably have always known this truth at some level, but now it seems to be a neon light flashing in our faces.

Obviously, fear is one of the realities that must be managed, and there’s much to be afraid of right now. However, deep down, I believe that we all have another reality living within us: the desire and hope that we, our companies and our country, can make it through this season.

When this concept occurred to me recently, I realized that I had one foot firmly planted in each of the boats, and that trying to manage both of the realities was tearing me apart. I would fluctuate between abject terror and firm faith.

I’m not proud to report that it took 4 different people to confront me in order for the truth to set in: that I was going to be in trouble if I didn’t get both feet in the same boat! And, that only I had control of my feet.. This was a turning point for me, and in subsequent days, I chose to put both feet in the “Faith That We Can Make It Through This Time” boat.

If you’re ready to get both feet in the same boat, congratulations! Here are some questions that may be of interest to you:

  • What are the specific conflicting realities that you are facing right now?
  • Who are you talking with about them?
  • How does it serve you to have one foot in each of their boats?
  • What would it take to move a foot from one boat into the other?
  • What might you visualize to help you? If you do not do this, what would your biggest regret be?
  • What is the consequence of continuing to straddle the boats?

As Thorton Wilder states, “The more decisions that you are forced to make alone, the more you are aware of your freedom to choose.”

The Paradox of Control

Let’s face it and be honest about it. Most of us are control-freaks. We order our worlds so that we can control what happens in our lives. We try to hire people who will be contributors and who we can control. We rarely move into new positions without some sense that we can bring them under our control fairly easily. We strategize about challenges so that we can overcome them, thereby giving us a sense of control.

Being in control is an illusion with two thrusts: being in control internally and being in control in the external world. The two are related. Have you noticed that when you feel out of control in your external world, it sets off vibrations inside? And, worse, when you feel out of control inside yourself, sometimes, in an effort to stay “in control,” you micro-manage events and people around you?

I remember one person with whom I worked who was feeling insecure and who was micro-managing everything she could. As we talked, she shared that she felt very vulnerable at work as a result of some deals gone bad. She had a sense that she was no longer in favor. As a result, she began to nit-pick those around her, including her manager. As a way of attempting to keep her job, she began to over-control everything around her. Unfortunately, the consequences were disastrous.

There are times when it’s more appropriate to let go of trying to control what’s happening and to move toward acceptance. This is in reality the healthiest response. By accepting, we can actually start to feel in control again. Thus, the paradox of control: letting go of control and moving toward acceptance gives us the ability to focus on what we can truly control, ourselves.
If this is where you are living right now, here are some questions you can ask yourself and discuss with others:

  • Exactly where are you feeling out of control?
  • Who can you talk with about it?
  • What are some alternative, healthier responses?
  • What can you do to refocus on accepting things as they are and taking care of yourself right now?
  • Who can you ask for help?
  • What action steps can you take that are appropriate to focus on elements within your control: Your attitudes? Your thoughts? Your behaviors?

The world goes on, people do what they do, events come and go, and for the most part, our only choice is this, ‘Do I accept it or not?’ If we accept it, we flow with it. If we refuse to accept it, we usually feel pressure, pain, frustration, anxiety and dis-ease.” From You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought (p.417) by Peter McWilliams.

Communication – Maintaining The Flow of Information

While we can’t stop some of the changes that occur around us, we can take actions that are healthy for others and ourselves. One of those actions is to keep communicating. This may sound easier than it is.

It seems unnecessary to bring up the concept of communication, and yet when times are stressful, the flow of information frequently is restricted or stops. When we talk about the flow of information, we are talking about information to you and from you. Both are vital.

Let’s start with information coming to you. In seasons of change, the first thing we all need is information. What were you doing on the morning of September 11th ? I was planted squarely in front of a TV. All morning. Most of the day. What did I need? As much information as possible.

With information comes the possibility of making good choices. With limited information, you have more limited choices. If you’re not getting the information you need, it’s important to ask for it. I remember when my mother-in-law was dying and we needed to know the reality of what was happening. We finally went to my father-in-law and asked him what the doctor had said. Crying, he told us that the cancer had spread and that time was short. We asked why he hadn’t told us before, and he replied, “I wanted to protect you.”

While limiting the information flow may feel like protecting, it isn’t. In fact, it’s just the opposite. You may be thinking, “But you don’t know my company. Nobody shares information!” That may be very true. If information isn’t flowing to you in a manner that you like, go to those who may have it and ask. You may not get what you want, but at least you’ll know that you tried.

On the other hand, if you’re in the place of having information, think about what you can share and do it in a timely manner. For example, one man I worked with wasn’t sharing his concerns that his job was in jeopardy with his wife. When I probed about this, he said that he didn’t think she could handle his concerns. As his coach, my request of him was to ask his wife if she could handle some challenging news, and proceed from there.

Not only was his wife able to handle it, she became one of his most capable supporters (advisors) during a difficult time. Having an unrestricted flow of information helped her understand what he was experiencing and helped him to process what was going on at work. In the workplace, and at home, communicating is one of the most powerful choices you can make.

If you are at a place when you recognize a desire for more information, or if you realize you need to share more with others, there are some things you can do. Start by asking yourself:

  • What information do I need at this time?
  • Who can I go to for that information? Who else?
  • What information am I withholding and why?
  • What information do I need to share with key people right now?
  • What are the consequences if I don’t?
  • What positive outcomes might occur if I do?

The power of words is immense. A well-chosen word has often sufficed to stop a flying army, to change defeat into victory, and to save an empire.” Emile deGirardin


In the midst of change, there can be celebration. Not big celebrations necessarily. That would be unrealistic. Instead, this is the time to focus on the small things that can be acknowledged and celebrated.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “attitude of gratitude.” When life is stressful and feels out of control, we can get to choose our perspective and approach for each moment of each day. Some will say, “But what if the light at the end of the tunnel is actually a train coming fast at us?” It might be. Once you have enough information to determine if it is, you can make appropriate choices. If it isn’t a train, then it’s time to be thankful!

Look for small things to acknowledge. Think of what happened in New York right after September 11th. People helped others. People were serving others. People were thanking strangers for the lift into town, for the meal that was free, for the helping hand that was extended. In the midst of such a crisis, there were small things for which to be grateful.

That all happened in New York. It can happen in your life, too.

Who can you acknowledge for something as small as delivering your mail to your desk?
Who can you help, even in a seemingly small and insignificant way?
Who can you thank for helping you?
What are you missing that truly is a gift during these times?
Right now, what are you be thankful (grateful) for?

"…When we learn to give thanks, we are learning to concentrate not on the bad things, but on the good things in our lives.” Amy Vanderbilt

Times are tough right now. But we have choices to make and things we can do to impact our workplace and those around us. Think about where your feet are planted. Include others as you make decisions and take action. Ask for help. Say you’re sorry when needed. Extend a helping hand and accept the hand that’s extended to you. Be deliberate in your thoughts and actions. Remember that there’s much to be thankful for, even in such times as these.



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