6 Ways of Dealing with Uncertainty at Work

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A Kahnesky
Manager, Denmark

6 Ways of Dealing with Uncertainty at Work

🔥NEW Have you ever wondered if and how you should start a new job at a new organization? Are you considering the option of a transfer to a new team or department? Do you have jitters about the new project your boss just handed you (given that you have never handled a task of similar nature)?
The common thing which makes one afraid of dealing with scenarios like the above is uncertainty. When one cannot comprehend how things like this could turn out, one is often afraid of making decisions (fearing adverse consequences). Falling prey to this 'fear of uncertainty' is devastating to both employees, managers and leaders resulting in loss of confidence, decreased motivation, and reduced job performance.

The way to navigate through this kind of uncertainty at the workplace is not running away from them but by facing the challenges head-on. Here is a list of six tactics that employees and leaders can use to manage situations with uncertainties at the workplace:
  1. ACCEPT THAT YOU DON'T KNOW IT ALL: We seem to have acquired answers that fit every problem we have encountered throughout our lives. We try to apply one of these 'standard solutions' to every problem that comes our way. With new problems bringing in newer challenges, this trick does not always work out. One way to deal with uncertain circumstances is to acknowledge and accept them as a part of learning. This change of perspective can relieve an immense load of stress and pressure during difficult times. It can also facilitate the flow of ideas and thought processes effectively.
  2. LEARN TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN COMPLICATED AND COMPLEX: Events that we assume are Uncertain are actually either Complicated or Complex understanding the difference between the two helps to tackle them better. When a situation is Complex, numerous components are at play (such a situation might not always be difficult). For example, when a company has to digitize its paper-based customer records. This process involves numerous steps like identifying different record formats, creating database tables, scanning or feeding the data into a computer, etc. The key to tackling such problems is handling the situation one component at a time, addressing the issues at each stage as they arrive.
    On the other hand, a Complicated situation may not have many components, yet it is unpredictable and difficult. Solutions to such problems can be found through trial and error methods, thus requiring constant learning and adaptation. For example, a factory manager who has to deal with his workers on strike has to tackle a complicated issue. While dealing with a complicated issue, one must not confront the problem in terms of its difficulty level, rather try solving it using an open mind and common sense.
  3. STOP RUNNING BEHIND PERFECTIONISM: Uncertain situations do not call for perfectionism since the environment is constantly changing. Employees high on perfectionism and need for achievement should try to let go of their fears of imperfection, such as making a wrong decision, fear of failure, and not being able to deal with it. Uncertain situations provide numerous opportunities for learning and developing oneself. Get rid of your fears, accept failures as they come, and adapt yourself to the situation
  4. AVOID OVERSIMPLIFICATION AND REACHING QUICK CONCLUSIONS: Often, employees get frustrated when they cannot reach solutions for challenges they encounter at work. Similarly, when faced with a complex situation, employees might break it down into too many components and oversimplify it. However, this can also result in a false feeling of simplification and could minimize the seriousness of the present problem. Hence, it is important to avoid oversimplification, understand and acknowledge the core presenting problem and own biases that might play as well.
  5. DON'T DO IT ALL ALONE: Managers often report feelings of isolation which comes from the ever-changing and uncertain situations at the workplace that they have to deal with. This isolation is mainly due to their belief in 'solving all the issues independently'. As the complexity of the task increases, it requires more effort. There is indeed a limit to individual ability, capacity, and knowledge. However, working with teams can help expand our knowledge, present us with different experiences and enable us to look at a specific problem using a different perspective.
  6. FIND THE TIME TO ZOOM OUT: Employees tend to get deeply immersed into the problem while trying to solve it. Sometimes, the root cause of the problem might not be visible to us directly. All our attempts to solve the problem might not always be fruitful, not unless we tackle the root cause of the problem. The key lies in zooming out, trying to see the bigger picture. Look at other systems, other components, the connections, or interdependencies. For example, a bottleneck in a project would be coming from Team A, whereas in reality, this might be due to a dependency on Team B, who may have a dependency on another Team C. Looking at the big picture helps to identify this.
⇒ Can you think of more such ways to deal with uncertainties? Do mention them in the comments below.

Sources
Zucker, R. & Rowell, D. (2021, April 26) '6 Strategies for Leading Through Uncertainty.' Harvard Business Review.
Wong, F. (2018, October 24). How To Manage Uncertainties At Work. Medium.

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