What Can You Actually Control?

Nov 05, 2021

Likely NOT What You Think...

Is There Anything You Can Control?

Being a Human Resources Professional can often feel like an exercise in out and out futility. We see people at their very best and conversely at their very worst. I remember the very first time I had to lay someone off.

It was early 2009 and the economy was crushing the hospitality industry I was a part of. The hotel was undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation and the business was very soft.

Though we were loath to do so, we ultimately had to reduce our workforce through no fault of their own. For me, this is one of the most gut-wrenching things to execute. I mean this team member had worked hard and had to be let go in spite of their gret performance.

We decided to go last in first out which meant the most recently hired team members were the ones immediately impacted. I recall one person I delivered the unfortunate message to was crushed to the point of threatening to go home and make an irreversible decision.

I was never trained how to deal with that type of situation, but my heart kicked in and I sat with that person for well over an hour before we literally hugged it out and he went on his way in a better headspace.

Years later he reached out to me and told me everything worked out for him after he left and I cannot tell you how I felt hearing that news.

I recalled this scenario recently as I was working with some team members on change. Legions of books have been written, coaching conducted and soul searching done in relation to change. None of this makes change any easier

The Only Thing You Can Control In Like Is...

Change is like a heavyweight fight happening between your conscious mind and your unconscious mind. The conscious mind jabs and then your unconscious minds hooks to connect directly to your jaw.

This is the way the unconscious mind works. Its sole mission in life is to keep you safe and change disrupts the norm thus, unsafe.

You may as a child have either touched an electrical outlet and gotten a jolt to your system or perhaps touched a hot pan and ended up with some blisters. It was your unconscious mind which likely kept you away from those things after that.

As adults, the unconscious is still doing things to keep you safe. Whether it is something as evil as keeping you overweight because of a childhood trauma or avoidance of deep personal relationships because you feel unloved from when your parents separated, the unconscious does not know good from bad, only "safe" which means no change.

By now, you are likely asking, John, what the hell does this have to do with human resources?

More than you may realize.

Recently, I was working with a group who had fallen behind the technology curve and was still using strategies and systems which were cutting edge 10-15+ years ago.

When the subject of using a piece of technology to streamline and directly deal with a major issue with this company's infrastructure came up, the subconscious mind of one of the people involved instantly rejected the suggestion and completely shut down the discussion.

So what is it that you can actually control?

I have said it for years and I have NEVER been proven wrong:

The only thing you can control in life is HOW you respond to life.

Look, life throws a ton of crap at us. I have been diagnosed as a Diabetic, been through bankruptcy, been laid-off during a pandemic, had an ownership group demand I be fired because I took a scheduled vacation and as a high school senior had to speak in front of a class of college sophomores for 10 minutes about me and my life.

I could easily have been angry, frustrated, or deflated. In truth, in my younger years, probably was. But ultimately, that served nothing but to get emotions riled up that resulted in no change.

Slowly over time I learned if I rolled with the punches, learned the lesson I needed and moved forward, life got a whole helluva lot easier.

Unfortunately for my HR career, that belief is not carried by everyone I interact with. So what can you do in when you are dealing with a raving lunatic or someone who is far from reasonable?

Stay Calm

Simply stay calm. It is de-escalation step number one. Or in a nod to Neuro-linguistic programming, mirroring, though in reverse.

The premise of NLP for mirroring is to match the other persons tone, pace, and volume so a sort of bind can be built. In this case, your tone, pace and volume gets mirrored back towards you though it could take a little time.

When you control your response, you allow others to regain control over theirs.

But let's look deeper at using this outside of work.

How do you respond when:

  • A car cuts you off...
  • Someone lies to you...
  • Your team loses...
  • It rains during your vacation...
  • The plane you need to board is delayed...
  • The meal you want at your favorite restaurant is sold out...
  • The line to get into Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is hours long...

OK, maybe I am the only one thinking about that awesome ride at Walt Disney World but you get the point. Life throws things at us constantly and we can either choose to let it define us in that moment, or we respond calmly, rationally and with the knowledge that this too shall pass.

Be an agent of change and respond in a way which will ultimately make your environment a much more tolerable place...