During these times of intense change, why is it important to be able to “manage uncertainty”? Let’s first define “uncertainty”.
Uncertainty arises when change comes to us “out of the blue” or is imposed on us by someone or something that is outside of our control. This could be when we receive a “pink slip” and are laid off from a job with little or no previous warning. It can be when our partner says they no longer love us, have found someone new and asks for a divorce (when you have no inkling of it). The added intensity of the current pandemic is that usually there is some sort of predictable timeline on a change that comes to us “out of the blue”; whereas with this pandemic we have no idea when we will return to our “new normal” and what that will look like.
What happens when we feel uncertain?
We often experience fear and anxiety and go into fight, flight or freeze – the stress response – as we feel unsafe and our body wants to protect us. This response is meant to happen for short periods of time; however, if we live in constant uncertainty, the stress hormones keep coursing through our bodies and over time can lead to burnout and adrenal fatigue, auto-immune disorders such a fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis, and various types of cancer.
When we feel uncertain we may “jump” at the first solution that presents itself, so we feel more comfortable. This can be a business decision that isn’t well thought through, a position we aren’t suited for because we need the money, or a relationship with someone who comes into our life, so we don’t feel alone.
When we feel uncertain it is often difficult to focus; when this happens over time our productivity goes down and then it negatively affects our bottom lines.
When we are under the grip of uncertainty we often feel “on edge” and more easily “snap” at those close to us at home and at work.
So, if we don’t learn to “manage uncertainty” it has a number of negative impacts on our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our work, our businesses and our bottom lines.
What do I mean by “Managing Uncertainty”? To me it means understanding how I respond to change that “comes out of the blue” and having tools and processes to support me to move through it with courage, clarity and confidence.
If you have your own business or are a leader in an organization, it means becoming aware of how others on your team respond to change that “comes out of the blue”, and supporting them with tools and processes to help them move through and “manage intense change” and develop creative solutions to address issues and situations related to that intense change.
A helpful framework to support you and your team to “manage uncertainty” is my “Art of Change” Framework.(See https://pamela-thompson.com/strengthen-impact-world-dance-change/ for an outline of the framework.) It is underpinned by the belief that “embracing change (and uncertainty) is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities”. Using this 5-step process, you identify an uncertain situation you want to work on and through the process gain increased understanding and awareness of that situation and how you and your team respond to it, explore and let go of old patterns and ways of functioning that are no longer working, envision a new way of working, and develop an action plan to move toward the new vision.
The “Art of Change” Framework is based on over 25 years of living and working on 5 continents (including in conflict zones) as a consultant, facilitator and project manager. It is underpinned by evidence from neuroscience, organizational development, the health promoting and healing benefits of the arts and eastern psychology.
To learn more about the workshops on “Managing Uncertainty” I offer to groups and organizations, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a discovery call and explore how I may support you and your team.
Did you know that approximately 70% of organizational
change initiatives fail? Why is that?
According to my own work on
five continents and a cursory review of the literature, the main reason
organizational change initiatives fail is because they do not adequately address the people side of change.
What do I mean by the people side of
People are at the heart of
our organizations. They include everyone from the CEO, Senior Management Team,
Middle Managers, Team Leaders and Employees. They also include key stakeholders.
How do you address the people side of
CEO and Senior Management Team –The key ingredient here is for CEOs and their Senior
Management teams to be clear on why they
are initiating a change – be it a culture change, reorganization,
leadership change, new strategic plan … AND communicate that “why” clearly down through all layers of an
organization. That said it is not enough
to communicate the change, it is important for others in the organization
to take ownership of the change (more
about that later).
Another important aspect is
that a CEO and their Senior Management Team understand change and how they typically respond to it. Some key
questions to think about are: On a scale from 1 to 10, how do you typically
respond to change? One being “It scares
me to death” and 10 being “I thrive
on it”. My experience has been that most leaders rate themselves from 8 to
10. They tend to thrive on change. However, there may be others on their teams
who are 4s or 5s. If so, it is important to be aware of that, open up the
conversation, and discuss how those folks may be supported throughout the
When a CEO is open about
change, acknowledges that many of us fear change, provides opportunities for
their people to learn how to embrace change versus resist it and models
this behavior for others, it improves the chances of success of an
organizational change initiative.
How do you embrace versus resist change?
Based on more than 25 years of
consulting and coaching with individuals and organizations on 5 continents, I’ve designed a 5-step process called “The Art of
Change Framework” to support leaders and their organizations to embrace change.
It is underpinned by the belief that “embracing
change is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities”. It is
also supported by evidence from neuroscience, eastern psychology and
This process is best implemented on the “front end” of an organizational change
initiative and lays the foundation for that initiative. It works best in an
experiential workshop(s) format where leaders and their teams have the
opportunity to learn about change together, explore how they respond to change
and why, and receive tools to support them as they move into a change process.
The Value Add? When people learn about change and how they respond to
it, that not only supports their engagement, motivation, productivity and
positivity in the workplace, it also improves their personal lives.
I’ve included an excerpt from
“The Art of Change Framework: A Guide to Personal and Organizational Change”
below to illustrate the differential impacts between embracing versus resisting
change (full document available at https://pamela-thompson.com/).
What happens in Ourselves, Our Relationships and Our Workplaces when We
Resist Change versus Embrace it?
|We view change as a threat
|We view change as an
opportunity to learn and grow and as a creative process that opens us up to new
Low in energy
The increased stress over time
negatively impacts our health; can
lead to chronic illness and
negatively affect our career paths
Over time we are more relaxed,
more flexible and open to creative
ideas. Our health may be positively impacted as we feel supported by
those around us and that we are
contributing to something greater than ourselves; may positively
impact our career paths
|In our interactions with others we:
Are not totally present
May be argumentative
|In our interactions with others we:
Seek to understand and support
We feel alone,
victimized and that others don’t
Characterized by increased understanding, creativity and compassion
We feel part of something and
|Increased conflict –
“us” versus “them”
Increased illness and absenteeism
Negative impact on the bottom line
collaboration and synergy
Creativity and Innovation
Positive impact on the bottom line
As leaders of teams,
organizations or community groups, it is essential that you understand change
and how you respond to it and also understand your team members and how they
typically respond to change. By engaging in facilitated experiential workshops
on the Art of Change, the
understanding among team members will increase and resistance toward a change
process, be it a reorganization, new leadership, new project or new strategic
plan, will decrease.
Providing Opportunities for people from various layers of the organization to input into the change process such as answering the question: How will the change affect me? And How can we as a team best support and positively contribute to the change initiative? AND the leadership taking those responses into consideration, is important. This includes input from key stakeholders which may be obtained through telephone interviews, focus groups, facilitated workshops … . Providing opportunities for people to input into the change process not only may provide interesting suggestions and perspectives, it will also build ownership for the change. People by nature, want to be respected, valued and feel like they belong; and enabling them to input into a change process supports these basic needs.
My experience has been that
when we provide the opportunity for people at various levels to input into a
change process, they often contribute ideas and suggestions that senior
management is not aware of/cannot see from their organizational vantage point.
In a recent episode of “The Art of Change” radio talk show, my guest, Shelley Gilberg, partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers, and experienced organizational change expert, noted that one reason many change initiatives fail is because “we cut off support too early to sustain change initiatives” – For more details check out: https://www.spreaker.com/user/bbm_global_network/the-art-of-change-show-9. Providing people at various layers of the organization the opportunity to receive training and support and instituting “check points” along the way for people to identify how they feel and why is important. This is also supported by Brene Brown’s interviews with a large sample of leaders from both public and private sector organizations.
There is strong evidence that
the reason why many organizational change initiatives fail is because they do
not adequately address the people side of change. When we provide opportunities
for people from various layers of an organization, as well as key stakeholders
to input into a change process, when the CEO and Senior Management Team are
clear on why they are initiating a new change and communicate that effectively
throughout an organization and model positive change behaviors, and when leaders
and their teams from various levels in an organization are provided the
opportunity in experiential workshops to learn about change and explore how
they respond to it, the chances of success of an organizational change
Learning and implementing the
5-step Art of Change Framework helps
you as a leader understand how you respond to change and is a tool to support
you and your team(s) to embrace it. In these challenging and uncertain times,
now more than ever, we need proven processes to support individuals and leaders
in communities, governments and organizations to create successful change
initiatives and through those efforts make a positive difference in the world.
Creating a new project? Building a new partnership?
Embarking on a strategic planning process? Building collaboration between
multiple stakeholders or between one or more teams in an organization? All of
these scenarios benefit from the skills of an experienced and skilled facilitator.
What is a professional
A professional facilitator is someone who has been trained
by a recognized organization and/or academic institution. In Canada, several
recognized organizations that train facilitators are: the Canadian Institute
for Conflict Resolution at St. Paul’s University – https://www.cicr-icrc.ca/en/  ,
the Justice Institute – https://www.jibc.ca/
, and the Institute of Cultural Affairs – which also has an
international/parent organization – http://www.ica-international.org/.
A facilitator may also be certified by the International Association of
Facilitators – https://www.iaf-world.org/site/.
Role of a Facilitator
A facilitator’s role is to guide a group; to make it easier for a group to do its work. A facilitator takes the words and thoughts of participants and records them on a flipchart or laptop with projection. Facilitators are trained in processes to build consensus, prevent conflict and encourage creativity.
A facilitator has a strong process function versus being a content expert. Thus the role of a facilitator is not to contribute content, but rather to encourage the
active participation of all group members and to ensure that their ideas are
recorded as they stated them. In fact, people tend to get annoyed if you change
the words they give you to your own.
It is helpful when facilitating groups to understand their
“language” and the sector to which they belong. This enables you to know when
groups are “getting off track” and to more easily summarize the ideas raised.
It is also useful to encourage people to speak in “bullets” or “headlines” and
there are various processes to assist participants to do this.
facilitator is able to:
- Create a safe environment
- Summarize main points
- Use eye contact
- Identify and interpret non-verbal messages; e.g. frowns and
- Speak clearly
- Write legibly
- Ascertain if and when a group is “getting off track” and
“bring them back on track”
Additional characteristics that are helpful to have as a
- A good sense of humor
- An interest in and sensitivity to people from diverse
- Lots of energy.
There are many styles of facilitation and each facilitator
develops their own unique approach.
Benefits of an Outside
You may be a leader, project manager or changemaker who has
some facilitation expertise. If so, that is valuable. That said, it is useful
to hire an outside facilitator for the following reasons:
- They are a neutral third party and don’t have any biases or
strong affiliations with any of the involved stakeholders
- They can free you up as a leader to observe the group and
- They can enable you to contribute your ideas as a group
- They can provide a valuable “outsider” perspective on the
group and its dynamics.
The Power of
I’ve witnessed first-hand the power of a well-designed and facilitated process. An example is while leading the design team of an international development project in Nigeria that was to be implemented in 2 states – one in the Muslim North and one in the Christian South. With the support of my team, I facilitated a process whereby the key stakeholders in each state had the opportunity to identify their current situation, vision a desired future (after 5 years of project support), identify the gaps between NOW and THEN and what support they needed to move toward their vision. The participants in each state identified someone to present their key findings to a national workshop held a week later in the capital city. My team supported each representative to prepare a PowerPoint of the key workshop outputs to present at the national workshop.
Partway through the national workshop, the
head of Policy and Planning in the Muslim state stood up and said “Brothers and
sisters, I thought we were so different from you. I believed we were not as
advanced as you educationally and that our challenges and visions would be
totally different. Hearing you present today I now realize that we are
essentially the same; you face the same challenges as we do and have a similar
vision. I am so looking forward to working together with you to turn our vision
Another participant stood up and exclaimed,
“This is the first conference I’ve been to in this country where students have
been together with representatives of different levels of government, health
providers and academia. Students should be here as THEY are the leaders of tomorrow!”
Such peak experiences are highlights of this
work. They make me passionate about the opportunity to design and facilitate
processes that bring diverse groups of people together, change beliefs, foster collaboration,
and create initiatives that make a difference.
facilitated processes have the power to:
- Foster increased understanding (e.g. among different cultural and religious groups)
- Model and promote collaboration within an organization
- Create new partnerships
- Build ownership; and
- Foster creativity and innovation.
If you have a new project you’re
designing, a multistakeholder initiative you’re working on, need some visioning
or a new strategic plan, I’d love to speak with you. Please
to book a Discovery Session.
 Where I received my initial
training in facilitation, mediation and conflict resolution
 I was a member of the first group of
facilitators who were certified in Canada by the International Association of
I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase: Just do it! OR Feel the fear and do it
anyway. Sometimes these words are easier said than done.
I’m someone who has experienced a lot of changes throughout
my life and taken my share of leaps. That said right now I feel some resistance
to fully taking the leap into my new business focus and direction. So I asked myself: What’s holding me back?
This is what came to me:
- I will be so passionate that I will work night and day and burn out. I have a deep-seated belief (that I thought I had let go of) that If I throw myself passionately into something that I will lose my work-life balance and it will ultimately affect my health, relationships … Do you relate?
- My fear of not giving enough
- Fear of not spending enough time with family and friends.
Have you noticed any
resistance or fears surfacing as you move toward your dreams for the New
Year and a new chapter? If so, I encourage you to take some time to “go inside”
and ask yourself: Why am I resisting
moving forward? Notice what thoughts and emotions come up for you and where
they are in your body. I invite you to journal about those thoughts and
If you notice a strong emotion coming up, identify where it
is in your body. Notice what color it is and if there is a texture associated
with it (e.g. dense, heavy, sharp). Breathe into it and say “Thanks for protecting
me all of these years. I now choose to release and let go of you.” Then imagine
that emotion in a bubble in front of you and thankfully release and let go of
it. See it floating off into the sky or breaking into a million pieces. Then go
back into your body. Imagine there is soft, golden healing light coming into
your body from the top of your head down to your toes. Go to the place where
you let go of the intense emotion and imagine an opposite emotion (e.g.
happiness and fulfillment) and visualize what that looks like for you. It could
be a glowing golden ball of light. Imagine that glowing golden ball of light on
awakening each day and if/when the fear or resistance shows up. Know that you
are loved, safe and protected.
If you’re still feeling the presence of a strong resistance
or fear in your body I invite you to ask the question: For example; Why am I resisting creating a plan? For
me, my logical left-brain says: “You know what to do. You teach people how to
plan and facilitate strategic and operational planning sessions for
organizations.” When I ask the question again and go into my body, what comes
up is that at this point in my life I’m balking structure. Can you relate? I’ve spent so much of my life dreaming new dreams
and starting new businesses and initiatives that part of me is tired and wants
more ease and spontaneity.
Here are a few lessons that have supported me to “take my
next leap” and that came to me when I asked: How can I move forward and have the healthy, happy, balanced and
abundant life that I want in 2019?
- Carve time out each day to nurture yourself whether it be a walk in nature, a yoga class or coffee with a friend.
- Create a vision board and every morning look at it and say aloud: I’m so happy and grateful I’m living a life that includes … (and at the end say) this and MORE!” (tip from Mary Morrissey)
- Put activities into your agenda to support you to do what you need to feel healthy, happy and fulfilled plus run a profitable business that you enjoy (or do work you love) that makes a positive difference in the world.
- Plan to meet with one or more friends once a week or more for coffee and/or a walk
- Listen to your body and if you feel you need a nature “hit” go for a walk through the park and/or by the ocean and take in all of the beauty that surrounds you
- Reach out to one or more potential new clients each week day
- Make time to do something creative several times a week. It could be writing a new blog or LinkedIn article, painting, dancing …
- Remind yourself of your essence for this year (mine is “playfulness”), feel in your body how it feels to be playful and ask How can I be playful today?
- Include at least one stretch (i.e. one thing that puts you out of your comfort zone) at least once a week.
I welcome your thoughts and experiences you’ve had when starting something new below. “What beliefs and emotions have come up for you? What strategies have you found helpful/that have enabled you to take the leap; to feel the fear and do it anyway?”
Our world is characterized by rapid change and uncertainty. With new technologies, scientific advances, and rapid access to information, increasing expectations are being placed on us to do more things, faster and better. At times we feel stressed, overwhelmed and struggle with the inevitable fear, anxiety and doubt change brings up. I believe that we all have a choice to consciously embrace change rather than to unconsciously react to it.
Why do we fear change?
We are hard-wired to react to change; to protect ourselves and stay safe. Our primitive brains unconsciously “turn on” when we are in a situation that is different; we prefer sameness. Our amygdala (part of the brain) is constantly scanning our environment and when it senses a threat, it sends messages to our bodies to go into fight, flight or freeze. We all have seen friends or colleagues become angry or “edgy” when a change is imposed on them (e.g. new management, downsize, separation or divorce). We’ve also observed others or ourselves going into paralysis, and unable to make a decision. You may find when you are forced into changing something in your life, you typically want to run away from it or “hide your head in the sand”. We all have different ways we react to change.
There is strong evidence to show that we can choose how we respond to change. By consciously changing our beliefs and perceptions we have about change, we can physiologically change the structure of our brain (e.g. create new neural pathways). Dr. Norman Doidge’s amazing work on neuroplasticity described in The Brain that Changes Itself provides strong supportive evidence. Dr. Bruce Lipton in The Biology of Belief, shares powerful scientific evidence to show that all the cells in our body are affected by our thoughts.
How can we reduce our fear of change?
- Understand how and why we respond to change
- Become aware of our beliefs about change
- Try on some new beliefs around change
- Learn a proven model and tools to help us reduce resistance, and embrace and successfully navigate any change
- Commit to integrating new change strategies into our lives.
The more you understand change and the more self aware you are about how and why you respond to it, the more easily you can embrace and move through it.
So where can you start?
The 5-step Art of Change Framework I’ve developed based on more than 25 years of living, consulting and coaching on 5 continents, is a practical and accessible process. This framework is a proven model for embracing change whether it involves getting unstuck and moving forward when change is imposed on you, or whether you choose to initiate a change in your beliefs, attitudes and/or behaviors.
The Art of Change Framework is based on the belief that embracing change is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities. Think of the times in your life when change was thrust upon you; e.g. you were laid off; or when a boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with you. At that time, you may have felt caught off guard, angry, fearful and uncertain about the future. On reflection, these changes opened you up to a new and better relationship or a position more aligned with your values and passions.
Embracing change enables you to let go of patterns that are no longer serving you and to move forward with confidence, clarity, improved health, happiness, fulfillment, and inner peace. For examples of this see: https://pamela-thompson.com/let-go-fly-free/.
The Art of Change Framework is a 5-step process for embracing change that uses the metaphor of life as a dance. The steps are:
- Shine the Light – Explore how you respond to change and why
- Choose Your Dance – Identify the transition you want to work on and where you are on your transition journey
- Feel the Rhythm and Learn the Steps – Commit to embracing change in your body rather than resisting it, and begin doing the work associated with the phase of the transition journey you are in
- Practice, Practice, Practice! – Do the work that includes letting go, identifying lessons learned, envisioning the work, relationship or life of your dreams, taking action, and viewing change as a creative process that opens you up to new possibilities
- Consciously Share Your Dance with the World – Observe the positive changes in yourself, how others respond to you, and the positive impact you have on your family, friends, communities and workplaces.
If you’re interested in “diving deeper” into the Art of Change Framework, I encourage you to join me and a group of like-minded women for a fun and interactive one-day workshop “Embrace the Art of Change: From Fear to Freedom” on April 27th in beautiful Victoria, BC. To learn more and to register: