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Work life balance: … and amidst the chaos there is a choice

, March 31, 2016, 0 Comments

A famous saying of Deepak Chopra goes like this; “All great changes are preceded by chaos.” This is todays times reflects the reality that most people around us go through. They juggle between incompatible goals and struggle to manage multiple roles Pronob’s life is a prototype of lives of thousands out there who strive to strike a work life balance in the pandemonium called life;

Day 1: Pronob reaches the office only to realize that the client site was down for more than 4 hours now and the fire of discontent was spreading far and wide. He got Sambhav and his team together and fixed the problem in next 2 hours. All’s well that ends well.

Day 2: Sambhav takes ill after some freak food poisoning and would be out of action for the next 5 days. He is working on 3 Request for Proposals (RFPs) and had a lot to bring to the table by EOD.

Day 3: Their office bus meets with an accident with 5 employees seriously injured. The customer satisfaction scores for the last quarter are out and have dipped down. The boss is surely coming back for an explanation.

Day 4: His wife insists that he should take the first half off to attend the parents meeting at his son’s school.

Day 5:  His boss calls for an emergency meeting and expects him to over achieve his numbers by at least 15 percent so that the country numbers can be met.

Day 6: Three of his lieutenants put in their papers to join their close competitor.

Day 7: Thank god it’s SUNDAY.

How does Pronob’s life sound? Tough, but manageable? Now imagine all these events do not happen sequentially, but happen one after the other on the same fateful day? Most often life’s challenges do not meet us like a breeze of air, but more like a whirlwind. At work places most of us have to weather such chaotic situations day in day out. The emotional maturity, cognitive clarity and the behavioural preparedness that people exhibit in such scenarios differentiate the great from the good.

A chaotic situation most often is a mix of systemic constraints, work pressures and mutually incompatible goals, each screaming for the same level of attention, engagement and intervention simultaneously. Today’s workplaces are especially infested with such period, given the 24 x 7 available culture and the agile response patterns that organizations vouch for.

The dictionary meaning of the word chaos means disorder or confusion. Most chaotic situations trigger a fight-or-flight response in us that hijacks a rational or productive reaction to the situation. So what’s your pattern during a commotion?

Do you become overly emotional and touchy?
Do you feel overwhelmed and inadequate?
Do you personalize the situation and indulge in too much of what..if?
Do you externalize your anger and try to find a victim or an object to let the steam off?
Do you close off and mentally withdraw?

If the answer to any of the above questions is a yes, it’s nice to note the following

EC vs ER
While most people in a bedlam are advised to maintain Emotional Control (EC), that’s hardly possible. Control indicates being totally devoid of a particular negative emotion. Instead Emotional Regulation (ER) is a key to managing oneself during a commotion. Individuals who hit the panic button every now and then become a constant source of stress for team members and an active distractor in peaceful coexistence. While they may be good natured, their emotional roller coaster leaves those around them very dizzy and at times disorganized. Thus It is extremely essential for us to regulate our emotions through goal orientation and goal directed behaviour.

IC vs UC
All of us love to have a circumstance in which we live Under Control (UC). However, losing control over situations does not mean we cannot be In Control (IC) of our own self. Most look at a chaotic situation as a direct threat to their competence and image. In fact, most successful people look at an opposing circumstance as an opportunity in disguise. They chose to quickly realign their goal with their existing challenges and surge ahead in the pursuit of what’s best possible without worrying about whether it’s the perfect solution.

The most energy sappers in a chaotic situation is our obsession with analysis and paralysis of factors beyond our control be it future outcomes or past actions. Effective people focus on Factor Within Control (FWC) that can be leveraged to find reasonable solutions in the given constraints. Focus on FWC helps one in the prioritizing and alternative generation exercise that chart off the way forward.

You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them. So before you spend too much time dwelling on something, take a minute to put the situation in perspective. Psychologist Aron Beck, an authority in the field of mental health speaks about Automatic Thoughts that lead to negative body language, strained relationships and a sudden sense of inadequacy. Left to linger, such thoughts create a feeling of foreboding. Interesting the natural set of automatic thoughts that generate during chaotic circumstances is more often negative rather than positive. These ANTS (Automatic Negative Thoughts) crawl around and may actually paralyse ones coping response Generation of a positive self-talk can help people find opportunities in chaos, filter out the non-productive stress and commit to a realistic goal. A constant practice of positive self-talk generation may set them to be the default or Automatic Positive Thoughts (APTS) in the face of crisis.

Attach vs Detach
The angst of most people stems from the fact that organizations expect people to be constantly available, respond in real time through a series of gadgets and remain attached to work issues 24 by 7. The flip side of this story is a burnt out, stressed and a hyperactive employee who is a great candidate for an emotional hijack. A small favour from a team member or rebuttal from a lateral colleague may become a last straw on the camel’s back. Research shows that professionals who periodically “switch off” and go “off-line” can recharge themselves and are better equipped for strategic

Follow the Cynefin model
We would end the discussion on managing self during chaos with the Cynefin framework coined by Dave Snowden in 1999. As seen in figure  the essence of the framework is the acknowledgement of the fact that all situations are not alike and require a different mindset to deal. The framework looks at 5 domains:

Simple (Obvious): This domain comprises of situations that have a high cause-effect relation and the solution is quite self-evident. The best approach is to categorize the situation based on past schema and give a scripted response. This involves the sense- categorize-respond method to find the best practice.

Complicated: This domain involves situations in which a cause-effect relationship exists but is not evident. Thus, one would have to resort to a sense-analyse-respond approach to identify a good practice or invite an expert to tackle the situation. This may help a person identify a good practice.

Complex: These are scenarios where there are no cause effect relationships in events. As a result one needs to experiment to find a linkage in events. Thus the probe-sense-respond mode will help in the emergence of a solution not known earlier.

Chaos: This is a domain where things are moving too fast and out of hand. The major objectivity is priority setting and remediation. The solution may not be the best fit, but good enough for the situation to move towards resolution. Thus an act-sense-respond approach may help to come up with a novel response to mitigate the situation.

Disorder: The space between the four domains is the Disorder; an utter state of confusion where the person would not know which domain one actually belongs to. The goal of happy resolution is to stay in this space as less as possible and move to one of the domain as quickly as possible.

This framework clearly shows that there is always a design in the chaos that we find ourselves in and it is up to the individual to choose a forward moving path through the chaos.