5 Ways to Get Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

As we work in a realm of constant change, uncertainty and ambiguity, we need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Just like weight training builds muscle, everyone can strengthen their ability to deal with ambiguity. Here are five exercises to do so.

1. Understand your personality preferences and exercise the opposite.

If you know the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment, you’re familiar with the four-letter acronyms highlighting individual’s natural personality types (e.g., ISTJ, ENFP, etc.). If you aren’t familiar with it, I recommend you consider completing it for yourself and your clients/employees.

There are 8 types with 16 possible combinations accompanied by volumes of research, so I’ll jump to my point: persons who prefer the Sensing and Judging types are oftentimes less comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. Here’s why:

Sensing (S) types prefer to take in information and draw conclusions by gathering and analyzing all the facts first. On the opposing side of the MBTI® model is the type called Intuition (N). Persons with that type tend to draw conclusions based on their gut feeling. They use their instinct to see the big picture first then, only if necessary, they might gather facts to determine if their instinct was correct.

As you well know, in major organizational change initiatives, all the facts aren’t necessarily available, so you can see how people with the Sensing (S) type personality preference may struggle. If a person also has the Judging (J) type, it may be even more of a struggle because this type tends to deal with the outer world in a very planned, orderly way. They expect a detailed plan upfront, loathe schedule changes, and tend to follow a step-by-step process, literally 1, 2, 3… Frustration often ensues if the steps are applied out of sequence. Conversely, the Perceiving (P) types tend to thrive on spontaneity, like to keep things open, and often appear to produce work chaotically (especially through the eyes of a J-type person!).

It’s very important to understand that everyone can use all eight personality types. The MBTI® seeks to identify an individual’s innate preference. It is likened to writing with your preferred hand—it’s natural; feels comfortable; you don’t think about it. However, switch to your other hand and what happens? It’s messy, you have to give it more thought, and it takes longer. It’s uncomfortable. Sure, if you were forced to write with your opposing hand for several weeks, you’d get more comfortable and become adept at it.

Dealing with ambiguity is the same for S’s and J’s. It’s not comfortable, they probably don’t want to do it, it’s certainly not their first instinct, but with practice they can do it. It requires stepping outside their comfort zone, which also involves self-confidence.

 2. Invest in coaching to build self-confidence.

I asked a CHRO what it takes to deal with ambiguity. “There has to be a level of self-confidence,” he said, “both in employees and leaders, and unfortunately, this often gets overlooked. Part of it is that individuals going through change need to believe that they can still perform successfully. Also, employees look to their leaders, and if leaders don’t show self-confidence, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to bring the organization along.”

Stepping outside our comfort zone entails believing in ourselves and having faith that we can do it. It’s also about knowing that if for some reason we can’t do it, everything will be okay. We learn, adjust, and move on. A coach can help valued employees or leaders look at areas where self-confidence needs a boost and provide techniques, skills development, and help reframe self-limiting thought processes.

3. Be curious and learn something every day.

Having a love for learning, being inquisitive, and imagining the possibilities are traits associated with curiosity. When the world is constantly changing and new technology, new processes, and new coworkers are hurled at us, a general love for learning can help us thrive through it all.

We can take moments each day to be mindful about something we learned, whether significant or small. Encourage clients to seek fun ways to get out of their comfort zone and learn something unexpected. (Exercise that opposite personality type!) I recently completed a design class at the Art Center College of Design. It involved hours of sketching each week: not my forte and not comfortable! But in the end, I learned about the design process and how to develop and communicate ideas through images—quite useful in my profession.

4. Get your house in order and lean on your support network.

A CIO restructured his organization requiring several employees to reapply for jobs. I asked him how employees dealt with it. He explained that those who had some element of stability in their lives—a spouse, partner, close friend, or some sort of positive role model—demonstrated more confidence and security.

“It was like they knew they’d survive no matter what. Whereas, those who also had trouble in their personal life—divorce, troubled kids, financial stress, whatever—it was too much. It pushed them over the edge.”

Interestingly, he also observed that persons with combined personal and professional challenges were often blind to their challenges holistically. They tended to place blame on their work situation without recognizing that other life challenges perpetuated their lack of self-confidence and fear of job loss.

The change climate in which we live today demands a holistic view of ourselves as individuals. Separating work and life is next to impossible. That leads us to the essential fifth exercise. 

5. Grow self-awareness.

Here we land on a great example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts: If we have self-awareness, we can recognize when our natural personality traits may get in our way; we can proactively manage our self-confidence; we can reflect on whether or not we’re learning something every day; we can push ourselves to participate in activities outside our comfort zone; and most importantly, we can recognize stress inducers more holistically, start to better manage those, and know when to reach out or build a support network for help.

Self-reflection exercises build our self-awareness—everything from meditation to free-form writing to soliciting feedback. And of course a good coach can help individuals uncover their hidden assumptions and gain personal clarity about beliefs and values—a big step toward more advanced thinking and self-awareness.

Obviously all five exercises intertwine. Our natural personality traits can stagnate us if we aren’t aware of them and don’t have self-confidence, curiosity, and a strong support network.

What do you think? How else can we get comfortable with the uncomfortable?

(Versions of this article were posted in November 2014 at www.prokoconsulting.com and on LinkedIn Pulse)