Tips and strategies to support your personal effectiveness in uncertain times
2020 was a most unusual time for all of us and we have had to adapt. Uncertainty has become the norm. With vaccinations against COVID-19 on the horizon, we can at least now start to be optimistic about a return to a more normal existence some time in 2021. We would be remiss though if we did not take some learning with us into the New Year. Her we conduct a month by month review of our training and coaching year. We have applied a large sprinkling of hindsight to come up with some lessons that can also function as general tips and strategies for you. Use them to support your personal effectiveness and to boost your ability to reach for your goals in uncertain times.
January – Usually a quiet time of the year in our line of work, January 2020 was no different. A lot of individual coaching, some of which happens online anyway and a few short online workshops that were integral to concluding some programmes that had started with classroom-based learning at the end of 2019. First rumblings that a virus may be on the loose…
Our tip: Good communicators don’t wait for emergencies. They are always storing a lot of valuable information and clues about the people and context around them. They work on the principle, “You never know when this might be useful.” So keep your eyes and ears open to listen and observe – it will make you wiser and give you more choices when action is required.
See also our tip “Speaking skills alone are not enough” from our Treasure Chest.
February – It seems like business as usual but travelling to workshops and to coaching appointments requires a slightly heightened awareness of the need to keep hands disinfected and we edge away from others on planes and trains. We mostly still feel the problem is “out there somewhere” and not close to home. The situation is about to change…
Our tip: It is very easy to ignore the signs that something big is around the corner. This can be risky if it is something that will ultimately have an impact on you and how you go about things. We certainly don’t recommend always imaging the worst and disappearing down a dark rabbit hole of pessimism. Nonetheless, when challenges loom, you can be better prepared for all eventualities if you start to ask yourself a few “what if…” questions sooner rather than later.
See also our tip “Powerful questions for bigger thinking” from our Treasure Chest – the tip relates to coaching conversations with others but you can also ask yourself powerful questions and self-coach.
March – Hand sanitizer is everywhere, social distancing rules prevail with our groups and we even think twice about how to distribute handouts safely. In small group discussions during workshops, it is clear that we are all going to struggle to maintain 1.5 or 2 meters between us and the next person. Chairs start out well-spaced and then edge a bit closer. Cancellations start rolling in and initially programmes are rescheduled for the Autumn with an optimism that later turns out to be false…but who knew?
Our tip: When reality starts to hit you in the face, it cannot be pushed to one side. We do well in such circumstances to have some flexibility and adapt our behavior in good time, with a good will and with a good heart. The key is to hope for the best but to be prepared and start some practical planning for the worst eventualities based on the “What if…” questions we have already asked ourselves.
See also our tip “Navigating times of transition” from our Treasure Chest.
April – Most of April is consumed by trying to reschedule flights and hotel bookings, much time spent on the phone endlessly waiting for harassed and overworked customer service representatives. Some scheduled sessions start switching to online. We take out a Zoom subscription – the technology is well-suited to working with groups but not all clients agree and we have to use a variety of platforms. We start to realise that the content and methodology of a programme is heavily influenced by the flexibility and options provided by the platform that is being used.
Our tip: When fires are burning, it is clear that most of your time will be spent firefighting. It is important to set clear priorities and take care of the essentials with a degree of urgency as this gives you the best chance of saving existing resources for the future. In such circumstances though, save part of your attention to focus proactively on the additional resources you might need to bounce back as this will give you more control in the future.
See also our tip “Master your priorities” from our Treasure Chest.
May – We start delivery of an online presentation skills programme that was presciently already scheduled to happen online from the outset. We realise just how topical it is for the participants who now have to work from home AND communicate and present online. The format and content of the programme is well-matched to the times. Our participants report that they are finding it challenging to engage people easily in constructive discussions online in Q and A sessions and we are already prepared to provide really helpful tips about how to do this. Maybe more clients would be interested in this offer? And what esle can be done online?
Our tip: Move even more into Quadrant II Thinking (Steven M Covey). Take stock, build on your existing strengths. Then go further – develop your mission based on the new reality and start to identify opportunities with new people, new markets, new contexts that may not have been part of your world a few short moths ago. Keep your zone of attention on what IS possible rather than what is NOT, and start making plans.
See also our tip “If at first you don’t succeed” from our Treasure Chest.
June – Even though restrictions are eased, uncertainty still prevails. Wisely most clients review their plans for the Autumn. A lot of our groups are made up of international participants who travel by air to get to classroom-based training and airline schedules are still very unpredictable. We hold several discussions about how to adapt these programmes to an online format – we have already learnt a huge amount more about how to engage and work with participants online. Uncertainty is still the name of the game!
Our tip: Very few people enjoy dealing with uncertainty. A certain amount of control over life’s most important events tends to keep us in our comfort zones where we can plan ahead and minimise the unexpected. The last few months have taught us that there are a LOT of things that we cannot control. The first step is to accept gracefully those things over which we have no control and not to waste any more energy worrying unnecessarily about them. The second step is to ask ourselves, “What can we bring under our control and how” and then to throw our weight behind those areas where we can make a positive impact.
See also our tip “Encourage change at work” from our Treasure Chest
August – September – October – Once the summer holiday period winds down, and after a brief resurgence of face-to-face interactions, working life once again settles into an online routine. Scheduling workshops and appointments is much harder as online sessions need to be shorter and more spread out – you can’t simply substitute two days of classroom-based learning with two days in front of the computer without risking burnout of both the participants and the facilitators. Our participants and coachees report that although they miss working face-to-face, they are actually starting to see that you can achieve a great deal with both remote working and with virtual training and coaching.
Our tip: Human beings do tend to be change averse. Many people would not willingly choose change and uncertainty, and yet as a species we also tend to be adaptable when we have no other choice. Once you enter into a new comfort zone, you can also start to see advantages in the new way of doing things. Time for another personal review. Ask yourself, “Even if we could go back totally to the old way of doing things, what are the advantages of how things are working now” and “What new opportunities are there still to be capitalized upon”. In other words, when life throws you lemons, learn to make lemonade!
See also our tip “Strategies for managing yourself through change” from our Treasure Chest.
November – December – We rail against those who seem to act selfishly with little or no concern for the health and safety of others and we value the actions of the majority who think and act for the greater good. Uncertainty still prevails in many areas of work and home life. We may not like it but as we go back into new lockdowns, we recognize that perseverance and patience will be needed well into 2021. We make plans for an online life at least for the next six months or so. Hopefully it will be sooner that that when things get back to normal but we’ll cross those bridges eventually.
Our tip: We all like to believe in the light at the end of the tunnel – it keeps us going and enables us to be most resourceful when we otherwise might falter. It’s good to be as sure as we can though that the light comes from the sun and not the headlights of an oncoming train. It would be nice to think that we will not suffer from short memories and that we are all a little wiser and have learned a few useful things in this most unusual year.
See also our tip “The comfort zone and beyond” from our Treasure Chest.
You might also like these additional tips from our Treasure Chest: