The Journey of The Unknown

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Uncertainty is troubling for many people. What to do among it can be the determiner of who survives.

The government shutdown was a recent concern, which has negatively affected thousands of people. The last recession worried many people and caused more unemployment nationwide.

Many people don't know what to do. Fortunately, someone else does. Julie Benezet is the author of the award-winning book, The Journey of Not Knowing.

For 10 years, Julie led the "Challenges of Leadership" program for executives at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

So, I took a few moments to ask Julie about what people can do during such times.

How can people deal with the uncertainty and anxiety caused by the current national politics?  

TV, radio, the internet and social media all bring the chaos of national politics right into our lives. The constant battles, confusion and divisiveness make it very hard to know what is true and what to do. 

The only way to take control is to choose what to watch, listen to and read. You can actively turn the volume down or even turn it off. You can listen to less TV, pay less attention to the news, and limit the time you spend on social media. 

Or, you can choose to spend your time focusing on what is most important to you. 

You can choose how to react to chaos and uncertainty. You can decide to think before acting, stop making snap decisions and, most important, choose to think things through. 

Extreme change is now the norm. You have to find new ways to make life better for yourself and those around you. That requires choosing a dream, big or small, that will give you a sense of purpose. Then you must act on it. 

The key is to accept the reality, embrace the discomfort, and embark on the journey to do something good for yourself. 

What do people need to do? How can they make the best decisions?

Acceptance. 

First, accept the uncertainty of not knowing as good thing. Without question, these are scary times. So much is unknown, everywhere--politics, money, technology, culture, business, health, . . . The rules keep changing in all these areas, and new things pop up constantly. 

Don’t waste energy fighting it. Instead, focus on learning more. Use knowledge to identify opportunities for improving the things that are most important to you.  

Choice.

Second, choose to make positive change happen. No matter what is happening in your life, you have a choice, and you can choose to make something better. There are lots of choices you can make, big and small.

You can learn on your own from a library book or from articles, videos podcasts, or infographics. You can find a group of people who share a special interest in your community, on Facebook, or using Meetup. You can work on a local project or challenge.

You can volunteer at your children’s school, or at any number of non-profit organizations. You can choose to spend time around people who want to do good things and build the community. The possibilities are infinite.

Learning.

Third, focus on learning more than ever before. Whatever positive direction you choose, find your people! Identify the people you want to help and who can benefit. Learn what they want. Ask questions, lots of them. Then go and find answers.

Bring new information into your life. Learn what you need to know to hone your ideas for positive change. 

Persistence. 

Fourth, be brave and jump in.  Yes, you might feel awkward. Pursuing new ideas causes discomfort. You may encounter doubt, and others may resist you.

You may be asked why you are here, and be confronted or challenged. Your efforts may trigger difficult conversations.  People may ask, “What are you doing? Why are you doing that?” People may scoff at you and be cynical.  

The important thing is to keep going on your path. Persist. Keep trying, learning, and asking tough questions. You need to hear what others have to say, and make decisions based on the best information you (and others) can glean. 

Bravery. 

Finally, make the call.  You may not know when. But at some point, it will become clear that you must make a decision and take a stand.

The best decisions are made with a clear and calm mind. It does not mean you know all there is to know, but investing the time needed to create a picture that feels reasonable will pay off. 

Learn enough to feel the risk of not going forward with a plan is less than the risk of staying in place and not going anywhere at all.

How do you deal with the anxiety of conflict when so much is uncertain?  

To solve a conflict, seek to understand the other person and what they genuinely need.  

It is normal to feel anxious when conflict arises and to become queasy when you don’t know how someone will react to what you say. They might get angry, argue, shut down, cry or leave the room. You don’t know what will happen until you try it. Then you must work to understand how they feel. 

Defusing and avoiding conflict requires a deep understanding of people’s needs. Productive solutions can only arise out of recognition of those needs.  

You can achieve understanding by answering three questions to improve the experience and the outcome of the conflict.  

  • What do you need to be OK with this?   

While it is nice to have people like you, it might not be easy to achieve when they have to compromise with you. Ask your questions and listen closely to their answers. Don’t sidestep their critical needs. 

It will help to repeat what you hear them say to make sure you both got it right. Match up their stated needs with yours and agree on what the two of you want to achieve. 

Then figure out a plan for how you can work both independently and together to make the plan work. “If you do this, I will do that.” Keep the end in mind throughout the conversation.

  • What values you seek to maintain? 

Pay attention to how values and personal history influence what people say in conversation. There might be undefined reasons that the person is seeking to address, but has a hard time identifying. 

It might be something from their past that drives the need for respect, honesty and recognition. Try to learn what other objectives shape a person’s position beyond what they are telling you.

There may be creative ways to satisfy those needs and use them as building blocks for a solid solution. 

  • How will we communicate and work together? 

Define the expectations and make a plan. Agree on what actions you will take and how you will communicate with each other. 

Decide on when to spend time together and when to work alone independently. Set the meetings up in advance. Most important, make the commitment and follow through on all the actions in your plan. 

How do you persuade people to move forward with new ideas and actions? 

People tend to avoid making decisions. They are afraid of making things worse, because they don’t believe they can handle more expenses, greater responsibility or more accountability. 

Doing nothing is a decision. However, the cost of doing nothing might be much greater than the risk of trying to make improvements. Make sure people know the true cost of doing nothing.

Once you do that, you must ask for their permission and get them to agree on the plan.

You might not be able to answer all their questions, but you may have to do some more research and bring the information back to them.

Accept that you never will know everything. Instead, ask the key question, “Do you know enough to make the decision?” 

People can get stuck in a “do, do, do” loop, paralyzed with fear. They might want to do nothing or keep doing what they know how to do. It puts off having to make a decision and being responsible for delivering on it. 

But they must stop. That means literally telling them to sit back, look into the distance or close their eyes, and breathe deeply and contemplate what is happening.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is to take a break from work and head to the health club or take a nap. Pausing will help clear the slate and slow down the speeding train of fear that is fueling the decision-making paralysis. 

The best decisions are made after a break, when people are fresh, rested and have had a chance to mull things over and think things through. 

Give people a chance to come up with the best plans and actions. Then let them go away and think about it. Make sure that they make the decision voluntarily, free of the agendas of others. 

Breaking the decision down into smaller steps can help. What is important is to shift into a forward gear and test the road. If they hit a bump, they can always change the course, with you supporting them. The main thing is to keep moving.

Want to Learn More? Win a Free Copy of Julie Benezet’s book!

Starting today, you can enter to win a free copy of The Journey of Not Knowing.

At the end of 30 days, we will select three random winners and Julie will mail each winner a copy of her book.

You can enter to win a free copy by going to my Contact page and send me an email with the subject title, I Want The Journey of Not Knowing!