3 Questions to Help Reduce Uncertainty in the Workplace

Guest Contributorby Rose Cain | Posted | Communication

3 Questions to Help Reduce Uncertainty in the Workplace

In both our personal and professional lives, our actions and reactions play a critical role in our ability to accept change. Taking time to process information thoughtfully and clarify questions allows us to successfully execute on our goals. But adopting this mindset is not always easy, particularly when we let doubt, fears or uncertainty dictate our actions.

I was in a meeting the other day where we were talking about some changes. As often happens with change, a lot of discussion ensued. Why the change, why now, etc., and a large part of that discussion centered on a justification why we should not change.

Then I asked my #1 favorite question:

“What is the worst that could happen?”

This question is a tool I’ve carried with me for over 20 years. It was introduced to me earlier in my career when I was in a situation where I was struggling with change.

At the time, things around me were changing quickly. It was difficult to keep up. My head was swirling and I was resisting… big time resisting… change.

This resistance affected my ability to perform in my leadership role—I didn’t see this impact, but it was evident to those around me.

I sought guidance from my business coach—I was very lucky to have a business coach at the time—who asked me that one simple question.

As you can imagine, I had a long list of things that could go wrong—all seemingly justified. One of the concerns I listed was that “I could lose my job.”

How to take the fear out of change

Once I shared my list of concerns, my business coach asked me another question:

“What can you do about it?”

My coach was very savvy you see—she knew that I could never pass up an opportunity to problem-solve.

I then gave her another long list of things I could do to resolve the list of things that could go wrong. For example, for the concern “I could lose my job” I provided the solution “I’ll go get another job.”

Once done with this second list—a light bulb went off. I realized my resistance to change was centered around my fears—all unfounded.

By taking the time to intentionally identify the worst things that could happen—and what I could do about it—the future was no longer scary.

There’s a phrase that sums up this approach nicely:

“Life is 10% of what happens and 90% of how you react to it.”

How to gain clarity on what a successful outcome looks like

We’ve all been in situations where we’ve been given a project and upon completing it, realize (or receive feedback) we didn’t completely accomplish the outcome the requester was looking for. Getting clarity on that outcome at the start of the project is an ideal first step.

An approach I started using years ago to gain this clarity was to simply ask:

“What would it look like…?”

This question could be applied in any number of ways. For example:

  • “What would it look like for you to be satisfied this project is complete/ successful?
  • “What would it look like when this change is in place?”

You get the idea. This simple question can be incredibly useful in ensuring mutual understanding of what success looks like and how to measure that success. Because sometimes, when a task or a project is requested, even the requester doesn’t really know what the outcome should be. This question creates dialog that ensures alignment and thoughtful execution of a project so the expected outcome is achieved.

Ask questions to reduce uncertainty and fear

The Oxford Dictionary defines a question as, “A sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information.”

These three questions don’t just help to elicit information; they also help to alleviate fear, uncertainty and doubt. They help you to think critically, to develop planning skills, and to achieve successful conclusion to projects. It’s why they’re my three favorite questions.

So tell me: What is your favorite question?

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