Have you lived through a time of uncertainty on your team? What did you learn about your comfort with ambiguity and your strategies for coping with a vacuum of information? You probably have your own way of handling these difficult situations and it’s important to be aware of your tendencies and the impact of these on you and your team.

Chicken Little

Are you the drama queen (or king) of your team who responds to uncertainty by running around fretting. It is natural for the unknown to create anxiety—that’s normal. But giving in to that anxiety can actually perpetuate and exacerbate the problem. Instead of getting in a flap and sucking your teammates into your doomsday view, focus your communication on your boss; talk calmly about your discomfort; ask about when you’ll have more information; and ask for the support you need to stay focused on your work. Work in very small chunks and once you set yourself a task, don’t look up until it’s done. Accomplishing things will slowly dissipate your adrenaline.

The Lobbyist

Maybe you respond to the first whiff of organization change by picking up the phone and securing your allies. It’s understandable that you feel vulnerable when change is coming, but too many pleas for support can make you look desperate and needy. If you were a manager picking a new team, would you pick the desperate person who comes off as lacking confidence? I would stay as far away as possible! Instead of jockeying for position, make your interests and aspirations clear in a positive, forward-looking conversation. “I know change is coming, I just want you to know that I would love a chance to do X and would appreciate if you could keep that in mind.” This will also help alleviate any concerns among your teammates that you would throw them under a bus to secure your desired position.

The Brooder

The brooder keeps his concerns about change to himself and withdraws from team interactions during times of uncertainty. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your thoughts to yourself while you sort things out. The concern is that you don’t make your preferences known and therefore they can’t be taken into account. Even if your thoughts aren’t fully-formed, make sure to communicate with your boss about what you’re worrying about—you might have really important insights that your boss hasn’t considered. It’s also important not to let your reflective style come across as disengagement—stay engaged with your teammates; they could probably benefit from your insights.

The Happy Camper

During any major upheaval, you will find the person who is the stalwart optimist. It’s a great gift to be able to stare down uncertainty and answer back “Bring it on! I know it will all work out.” My advice to you is to make sure your optimism isn’t naïve by communicating to your boss what you see as the things that will be necessary to make the change work. That way, you appear positive, but not vacuously enthusiastic. The other watch-out is with your teammates. Your colleagues will have legitimate concerns and if your response to all of them is “it’ll be fine,” you risk appearing un-empathetic and disconnected. Listen openly to their concerns and help them reframe to the more optimistic view.

The Whisperer

The whisperer is the extrovert who needs to talk things through with others as their way of processing information. You flit from one closed-door discussion to the next, not looking for anything other than a sympathetic ear to listen while you talk through the potential scenarios and your reaction to them. You need to recognize that turning your internal dialogue into an actual conversation can whip other team members into a froth unnecessarily. If you need to talk things through, do it with your boss. If you need more, find a confidant outside of work who can be a sounding board without being involved directly.

Change creates all manner of reactions, but you probably have your own change modus operandi. Be aware of what it is, be more deliberate about how it affects your team, and make small changes in your approach that will positively impact people’s perceptions of you and also create an upward trajectory for your team. I’d love to hear your stories of people’s reactions to change. Share yours in the comments section.

Further Reading

In the Mirror: How much is Enough Structure?

How to Build your Resilience

Bolster your Stress Reserves

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