How to respond to difficult work situations

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How to respond to difficult work situations

How often do you exercise your greatest power – choice

Starting work in the early 1980’s was a time of great excitement, starting to make my own way down the great highway of life. Like many people of my generation, I had experienced authority figures (family, teachers etc.) adopting an autocratic style of guidance (we labelled it as “Victorian values”). At least at work things will be free from this level of control I thought.

Imagine my surprise then that many of the leaders I first encountered in work were from the same school of command and control. It begs the question “What did this lead me to believe about what can and can’t be controlled?”

Common things we at Zentano hear when we teach, facilitate and coach include “I would like to do this, but I just don’t have enough time” or “I wish I had the energy to focus on this” or “I need to fix the problem so that we can move on”.

So here is a question for you: “What do you believe you have control over?”

There are things we have freedom to make choices about. Stephen R. Covey in his best-selling 1989 book suggested there are 4 key areas where we can exercise this choice;


  1. Develop your self-awareness – we can choose to read, research, upskill, enrol in a course, get a coach etc. i.e. understand what makes you tick.
  2. Use our imagination – the ability to use our mind to go to places outside of our current reality. As children we do this naturally as we learn.
  3. Exercise our conscience – i.e. tap into our values, life principles and our sense of right and wrong.
  4. Act on our independent will – i.e. to behave in line with our own self-awareness, free from any other outside influences


Things you cannot control – don’t waste precious time and energy on these

Let’s start a list – What other people feel, think and do! What direction your boss wants to take the business you work for in (and how much of this he or she shares with you). How technology impacts our lives. How opinions in society progress and evolve and impact us.

Add your own things to this list. There is so much in life we cannot control yet everyday many of us spend lots of time and energy trying to control the uncontrollable!


Things you can control – work on these

How often do you blame your behaviour on circumstances outside your control or on how you have been conditioned to respond to stimulus, based on your life experience (the Pavlov’s Dog theory)?

Social media feeds are often full of people responding in a conditioned way.

The truth is we can learn to create a gap between the stimulus we get from our environment and the response we choose. When we create this gap, we can tap into our self-awareness, our imagination, our conscience and our independent will.

Your greatest power is the ability to exercise this freedom of choice. This is the thing you can control. It may not be easy, but it can be very empowering.

One way to do this is to notice the language you use (inside your head or verbally). “It’s just the way I am” can be reframed to “I can choose the adopt a different approach” or “He/she is getting on my nerves” can be reframed as “I control my own feelings”.


Things you can influence – focus on these

Write a list of the things that currently concern you. These may include family matters, health issues, workplace factors, national and/or international problems etc. When you have created your list, ask yourself, do I have a mental or emotional attachment to these things?

If the answer is NO, consign these to the “things I cannot control” bin. If the answer is YES, ask yourself which of these concerns do I have full control over and which ones I cannot control but I may be able to have influence over?

Listening to your language is again key. “I wish I had a partner who was more understanding” or “If only I had a boss who was less controlling” or “I wish I had kids who didn’t play me up” are all likely to be examples of concerns you have no control over. The word “had” or “have” is the telling one.

You may be able to influence one or more of these things if you adopt language that includes the word “be” instead. “I can be more patient”, “I can be more understanding”, “I can be more curious” etc.

Remember, to be more influential you will often need to create a gap between stimulus and response. This may be only momentary, or it could involve time set aside for considered reflection. Opening the gap creates perspective and considered thought.


To contact us and find out more about how to exercise your greatest power please click here.