Chaos is not your enemy. Here’s how to embrace it more effectively at work

By Stephanie Vozza

If the pandemic did anything, it forced us all to tackle the unexpected. Not everyone welcomed the need to pivot from routines suddenly. However, those who could adjust uncovered the formula for resilience.

Thankfully, pandemics don’t happen every day, but unexpected situations are bound to arise. The question is, “What do you do with the chaos?” says Christina Bieniek, deputy CEO of Deloitte Consulting, which offers management and business transformation consulting services. “There’s something fundamental in the belief system of how you view it,” she says.

Bieniek says she grew up the oldest of four in a loud Italian family where disorder, confusion, and unpredictability were part of everyday life. “With kids running in different directions, I learned to organize the chaos at a young age,” she says.

Fortunately, you didn’t need to grow up in a big, boisterous family to handle chaos. Bieniek says this is what you need to do to move from resisting to embracing it.

Check Your Mindset

The first step is to shift your mindset, starting when something unpredictable happens. Instead of ignoring it, acknowledge and own it, says Bieniek.

“There’s something about recognizing the spot that you’re in,” she says. “I grew up in an environment that forced me at a very young age to recognize chaos and realize that it will always calm down. You can help to make that happen.”

Your normal reaction might be feeling stressed or anxious and unclear on the direction to take. Instead, try to detach from your emotions and identify what created the chaos.

“Recognize your own behavior and outlook and what you need to shift,” says Bieniek. “How do I own the moment and change it into an opportunity for good? How can I pivot and move forward?”

Understand the Limitations

Next, separate the things you can control from those you cannot. Once you acknowledge what is within your grasp, determine how to spend your time and energy best.

“There will always be more things going on to solve than there are hours of the day,” says Bieniek. “Ultimately, when you have a high degree of complexity and you have things coming at you, it’s about making things better than we know them today.”

 

Find the Right Balance

Once the chaos is organized, strike a balance between embracing unpredictability and maintaining structure and a process around it. Bieniek says this step is one of the most significant cultural shifts for people.

“When you’re in that chaotic moment, everyone wants to know how’s it going to get fixed,” she says. “I believe in being transparent on where we are. Get the group to understand the things that we have a path to resolve. Then agree on the things that we don’t know how to solve right now. It’s saying, ‘Here’s what we’re owning and here’s what we just can’t touch right now. We’re watching it, and we’re on top of it, and we’re going to come back and revisit this.’”

Use Chaos for Good

It’s possible to use chaos to drive change and advance missions, says Bieniek.

“How do you take that unexpected moment, that state of confusion where things maybe don’t feel clear and think of it as an opportunity?” she asks. “If you can understand the root cause, find where you have alignment, and agree on what to do, you can create that opportunity.”

Ambiguity can bring people together, says Bieniek. “I believe when teams get a curveball thrown at them, such as a leadership change, an organizational change, or an acquisition, those moments force teams to come together,” she says. “Some of the best bonds form when you’re in the trenches together, working through what might feel like chaos.”

Fast Company – work-life

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