Managing Uncertainty and Change

When we lack information about a threatening situation, fear fills in the gaps.

Humans resist change based on many factors. Through research conducted both by myself independently and as a supervisor for Organizational Psychology Doctoral students, I can share that fear of change largely comes down to two factors.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has led to much uncertainty: financial, both business and personal; business uncertainty associated with the various work restrictions, assistance programs, and there exist innumerable other specific uncertainties depending on your situation and location.  Dealing with topics like fear and change can be daunting and personal.

This video post was originally aired live as a webinar on April 23, 2020 in Washington state.  We had coast-to-coast participants sharing their work and personal situations during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The webinar was hosted by Rocco Luongo, P.E. founder of Power Focus Engineering, PS and GoRocco-dot-Pro, serial entrepreneur, business consultant and coach and co-hosted by Dave McCormack, principal at McCormack Consulting, LLC, and executive director at Tri-Cities Local Business Association.

Here's what we covered in the webinar:
• Leading in the face of uncertainty – Assessing, Diagnosing, Planning, and Executing
How to evaluate change in terms of the two largest factors that drive acceptance or resistance to change, and the mindset needed to lead in times of deep uncertainty.
A framework for assessing and addressing your team’s fears, and your own.
Clear, authentic communication - How to understand your team’s communication preferences, especially under stress, to include aspects both above and below the surface.
What to do to stay ahead of fear in your organization

During the webinar Rocco shared materials that he developed and uses with his clients in the Pacific Northwest and around the world to manage in uncertain times.  Here are the links to those materials for your use.  Enjoy!

  • FREE Offer of Support to Business Owners and Leaders All webinar participants and readers of this post can take part in a free session with Rocco Luongo to assess their situation in a private, confidential, password-protected video call.  Simply download the flyer by clicking the link above, and click the button at the bottom of the flyer to schedule your no-cost / no-commitment private session.
  • Mission and Type Indicator Report Before working with clients or internal team members, either 1-on-1 or in groups, it is best to use an assessment cocktail curated from the best the industry offers to align mission, vision, motivation, and communication preference.  Click the link above to read Rocco's.  We use this information to assess issues both above the surface and below.  We can verify honesty, true motivation, as well as latent need for drama in individuals and then we create a 'manager dash' so these qualities are available at the click of button to assist in diagnosing team function issues and implementing rapid, efficient, and compassionate corrective actions.
  • The Block and Tackle Optimal Weekly Planner - The week is the standard unit of business time, and setting your intention clearly  each week and then following through is the strongest indicator of success in life and business.  Rocco developed this over the course of years and he still uses it himself and with his clients.  In fact, try using this for just twenty-one days and if you give it an honest try you should see a 30% increase in productivity, reduced stress, and a sense of awe in just how amazing you really are.  Actually, 30% is the lower end of the scale.  Many clients see a 50% increase.
  • Diagram Your Fears Worksheet.  There are a lot of fears out there.  The stock market crash, the empty grocery store shelves, your health or the health of those you love.  Worrying about these things won't make them better, but neither will ignoring them.  Anything you 'push down' will come back up at some point, and it will probably come back at worse time, place, and manner than now.  So what to do about it?  Download this worksheet and start capturing those fears in one place.  This tool guides you through the process of writing down your worst fears in an intuitive fillable PDF.  The tool is structured to break the all-or-nothing mindset that accompanies fear by examining the value of a partial solution to the fear.  From there we must free ourselves from paralysis by focusing on actions that we can take in two distinct areas which reduce risk.
    • 1) Actions to reduce the likelihood of the fear coming true or getting worse; and
    • 2) Actions to reduce the impact or severity of the fear.  Use this with your team and let us know how it goes.  We do guided facilitation with big and small teams and this one brings teams closer together and infuses a sense of authenticity in the event.

The two factors that drive change resistance or acceptance.

Before we jump into the factors that drive change resistance, let's take a moment to consider qualites of resistance.

In the electrical world we can think of resistance as anything that resists the flow of elecrical current.  We use symbol that looks like a jagged line to signify a resistor, like this one.


The current lost due to resistance is not really lost, as energy cannot be lost, it is simply converted to a lower form - it becomes heat.  If we take the electrical analogy one step further, consider the electrical voltage, whether from a battery, a power plant, solar panels, or any form you wish as a highly ordered type of energy - it has a clear voltage and form.  It therefore has low entropy, and entropy is disorder.

Once the voltage is applied to a resistor a current flows.  This is the voltage source, also call potential, doing work on the resistor.  Please remember the term potential as we'll get back to it in a moment.  A light bulb is a simple resistor, which converts voltage and current into light and heat.

An electric motor can also be thought of as a resistor, along with other simple electrical elements.  The voltage applied across the motor causes the motor to move and do useful work, but some amount of energy is lost to heat.  This is an unavoidable aspect of the reality we inhabit.  This discovery is attributed to Sadi Carnot in 1824 which we now refer to as the second law of thermodynamics.

The reason I am sharing this with you is that we can also think of ourselves as resistors, but we are not "dumb" resistors like light bulbs or motors.

We can choose how greatly we resist change, unlike the motor or the light bulb which simply must "do" once the switch is flipped.

People generally resist change based on their perceptions of:

1) how much is at stake for them; and 2) whether or not they chose the change.

change resistance

Consider the four boxes separately:

  1. Low Resistance (lower left) - In this case you chose the change, and you do not have much at stake.  This could be just about anything you could imagine.  This could be getting your choice of which take-out dinner to have, or even which vacation to go on if you have lots of time off available.  It is your choice and you don't stand to lose much if it goes wrong.
  2. Medium Resistance (lower right) - Let's keep using the vacation analogy.  The stakes are still low. You have lots of time available, but in this case, you do not get the choice of where to go.  This could be due to getting out-voted or not even being consulted.  Anytime a change is imposed upon us our reaction is to resist.  Generally, mindfulness and comfort being in the present moment helps to dispel this type of resistance.  Good management by soliciting feedback and allowing everyone their chance to speak helps reduce this type of resistance.
  3. Medium Resistance (upper left) - Continuing with the vacation analogy, but the stakes are now high.  Let's assume that you still have lots of time available, but in this case, the trip is going to be more expensive than you thought and you are worried about the bill.  You got to choose the place, so that pleases you to some level, but worry about the cost seeps into your bones and generates resistance.  A fixed mindset, also called a scarcity mindset, creeps in and generates resistance.  Cultivating a growth mindset helps with this type of resistance.
  4. High Resistance (upper right) - Continuing with the vacation analogy, the stakes are high and you didn't get to choose.  Situations correlating to this box yield the highest resistance.  You can image the COVID-19 pandemic as belonging to this box.  You did not chose this, and neither did your team. Stakes are high.  People are worried about their health and that of their loved ones.  They may have been laid off or furloughed and the bills are coming due.

There is an old zen saying that goes like this:  suffering is equal to pain times resistance.

Resistance has the ability to magnify even a small pain into tremendous suffering.  Conversely, as Viktor Frankl demonstrated during his internment in a German concentration camp, the suffering due to even massive pain can be reduced through acceptance.  Acceptance in no way means you need to sit idle and do nothing, nor does it mean that you are happy about the situation.  It simply means that you accept what is happening for the moment, and then do what you can to make the situation better.  In Viktor Frankl's case, he chose to see the horrible experience as an existential opportunity to learn.

Seeing threats as learning opportunities are key in managing change resistance.

As a parting thought, think back to voltage as potential again.  This works with people, too.  We all have potential, and we choose what work we apply our potential to each day through the actions we choose.

If our actions include high resistance to the reality of our current situation, then we lose tremendous energy to heat, entropy, and disorder while accomplishing little valuable work.

However, if we use our potential in a state of acceptance, we generate more value and less of our potential is wasted as heat and disorder.

Thank you for reading.  Steady on, friends.  🙂

Want to start down the path of mastering these skills?  Click here for a no cost / no commitment discovery session with Rocco now.