Fear and Uncertainty Unpacked. Did you know that even when this current crisis ends, whenever that may be, there will always be something else around the corner, that we did not envisage happening?
Leaders often think it is all about the strategy and preparing for the future, but can we really know what we don’t know, given recent events? There will always be something else, such as earthquakes, volcanoes and events that we cannot foresee.
We are always living in an uncertain world, but why should that be a problem for us to deal with? Yes, it makes us feel uncomfortable, yes, it’s unknown, but what if this is exactly how it has always been and will be?
Our species lasted this long and the past 6 millions of years of evolution have shown us that we are built for reality. Humans have managed to survive and thrive, even with all the uncertainty in the world. Every crisis however big or small, brings about change, adjustments, learning and consequently growth. We are built for change, it’s hardwired into our way of being. We think that we cannot handle a situation, not yet clear to us and that simply is not true, otherwise how would you have gotten this far?
So why do we get fearful if we are built for change?
We are well organised for what is familiar, but what is unsettling for us is the unknown. At least it is for me when I mistakenly believe that unsettling feeling I experience in that moment is telling me something about the situation or my ability to handle it. We are all built to handle such challenges and we are actually very good at it because we are born with creativity built in. The only thing that gets in our way is a common misconception that the feeling of fear we experience, when we are faced with a challenge, is telling us about the future, when actually it is just telling us about thought in the moment.
For example, when a cat enters an unknown space it is very cautious and its protective mechanisms are on alert (flight or fight) although we may very well know that there is nothing dangerous. The same is happening with us, our Amigdala lights up (the part of the brain that is responsible for our fight/flight reaction), and it is crucial that we understand this feeling has nothing to do with the future and our abilities to deal with any given situation. So, it can be useful to remind ourselves that making decisions in those moments may not be the best course of action. Far better to reflect, get quiet and ask yourself, is that feeling really telling me anything useful about what lies ahead. The answer is always no. Our feelings cannot actually tell us anything about the future or the past. We are always in the now.
Why is clarity so important for a leader when it comes to navigating any crisis?
Well, have you ever heard the saying, it just takes one sane person in the room to have a profound impact on everyone and bring them back to reality and feeling psychologically safe?
Fear and Uncertainty Unpacked … I will give you a personal example of an experience that impacted me and prove what I have shared with you so far. Two years ago on my connecting flight from Dubai to Berlin via Kiev, just 5 mins into the flight, the passenger next to me starts a conversation and we talked. I thought I was having issues understanding him, only to later realise that something was not quite right with his psychology.
Some bits of information at the time just did not make any sense, at least to me. He seemed happy enough, so I just smiled back. 10 mins or so later, the same man starts pressing the call button for the stewardess and he barks orders at her, then at me. Ok, no big deal. Then soon after that, he got louder, seemed to be telling me about terrorist attacks (9/11) and some other bits that did not make sense.
Fear and Uncertainty Unpacked … Other passengers close to us, noticeably started to feel a bit scared, and the woman in front of me told him to calm down and sleep (we were on a red-eye flight). Things took a nasty turn from that moment on, as the man shouted at the woman in front and hit her on the head (not hard, but invading her personal space).
There were two very tall guys (they turned out to be her son and his friend), near by. The man was very close to being punched. I then stepped in between them and gently told the mother and son, ‘the man has his young son next to him. I know you are upset and you have every right to be. Can you, for the sake of the child, let me deal with him until we land, please?’ The mother agreed, however, she was still very upset.
I had a chat with two of the flight crew, as they seemed very nervous, they told me they thought he may be a terrorist and I told them I thought the man was just having some issues and did not seem like a threat and he was not a terrorist. We agreed to all watch him and report anything that may impact the safety of the flight.
They later even relaxed a bit and we had a laugh about the situation and they asked if I was ok and I said, I am surprisingly calm. One member of the flight crew said, ‘good thing it was you who sat there then’, and she smiled. I said: ‘I guess so’ and returned back to my seat, at the same time smiling inside as in the past I probably would have lost my cool in this scenario.
We finally made it back to Kiev in one piece, without further issues and the flight crew thanked me for not losing my mind and remaining calm.
Fear and Uncertainty Unpacked … The whole experience humbled me, really, the father who was clearly struggling with his own reality, and the worried crew and passengers. As I was coming to terms with how calm and present a person can be in stressful situations, I realised that compassion is really key in these situations.
I was seeing everyone’s innocence in real-time.
Some people might say, wow what an ordeal, but I say I have been given a lesson in how compassion and love, are key for all of humanity and navigating uncertainty.