Overcoming Adversity in the Workplace

Written by: Ron Scheese

I overheard an interchange between coworkers, one that I imagine occurs on most days as we travel between meetings. These two colleagues are great individuals, both of whom I would want on any of our projects.  Both are high achievers and assume responsibility for great service and results. I could count on either to run through a wall for Andesa.

“What’s going on?” asked the developer.  “Lots,” replied the analyst.
“Anything good?”   An emphatic “Nope” was the analyst’s response.
“What’s going on with you?” asked the analyst as he picked up the conversation.
“Lots,” responded the developer.
“Anything good?”    “Nope.”

I’m not sure why I was troubled by the interaction, but I was.  If I had been on my game that day, I might have interrupted and pointed out that “lots” means we are busy and thus valued.  If you have “lots” on your plate, it means we recognize your talent and believe you can handle “lots.”  If you are solving problems, either to improve Andesa or help a client, that is a good thing. Any progress made towards that ultimate objective is positive momentum.

Adversity can be turned to opportunity simply by adjusting our perception and our attitude.

That same week, I attended a White Coat Ceremony honoring new students as they were welcomed into the profession of medicine.  Keynote speaker, Dr. Stanley Dudrick, MD, provided an inspiring message to those starting their journey.  In his address he noted, “A good attitude is therapeutic, but a bad attitude is detrimental to any situation.”

One cannot escape adversity. How one handles the obstacles along the journey makes all the difference. Anyone can be calm, focused, purposeful, and fun to be around when things are going well; but I look for those attributes in leaders when stress and challenge arrive on the scene.

Allow me to “im-P.A.R.T.“some observations on overcoming adversity:

P. Perspective:

I recently concluded Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies by Charles G. Koch. One of the book’s key takeaways was an emphasis on adversity. In a letter to his sons, family patriarch Fred Koch reminded them, “Adversity is a blessing in disguise and certainly is the greatest character builder.” Another fundamental message stressed how failure is important for personal and business growth, while also cautioning that risks must be understood such that the magnitude of failure is on the correct scale.

In order to overcome adversity, one needs to acknowledge its proper perspective. Accept that there will be pitfalls and setbacks in any worthwhile endeavor. Expect some hurdles and dry spells, but keep them in context. Do not permit hardships to define you.

A. Attitude:

In his classic book Man’s Search for Meaning, Austrian psychotherapist Viktor Frankl shares horrific experiences of his life in World War II’s Nazi concentration camps.  “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.” His influential conclusion has helped countless individuals deal with stress, grief and the ups and downs of life.

Learning to separate negative emotions of frustration, disappointment, fear, anxiety and hurt from the situation allows one to see things more objectively and transcend adversity. Frankl reminds us that our attitude is the one thing we control in any situation. Use inspirational quotes, encouraging music, or daily devotionals for motivation. I have often found positivity surpasses knowledge, skill and experience in working through difficult circumstances.

R. Reframe:
Do you remember Apple’s “Think Different” advertising campaign in the late 90’s?  The ads featured the likes of Muhammed Ali, Bob Dylan, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Luther King, Jr., Pablo Picasso and more. Launched shortly after Steve Jobs reclaimed the helm at Apple, “Think Different” helped consumers see the brand in a whole new way.

Here’s to the crazy ones.  The rebels.  The troublemakers.  The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.  Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do,” – Apple, Inc.  “Think Different”

I have found that adversity frequently appears in a narrower view of life compared to what a broader perspective might hold.  We often are so caught up in the obstructions and details of the moment that we fail to take a wide-angled view of the situation.  Many times in my life I have experienced working on a puzzle for hours when someone takes one look at the situation and my dilemma is resolved quickly, often with me scratching my head saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Recalibrate the situation.  Involve others in the problem.  Brainstorm alternatives.  Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  Consider multiple options and solutions form a different perspective.

T. Tackle:

Christian artist Matthew West’s lyrics to the song “Do Something” speak of action in the face of adversity.  He describes situations in the world that disgust him. His solution is to stop complaining, stop blaming, stop making excuses, and “Do Something.”

Fear, analysis-paralysis and uncertainty prevent us from tackling challenges. I have the “Initiator” talent as one of my five key strengths. My natural reaction is to try anything first – just do something.  The pathway might not be clear; but sometimes when I simply begin, I learn something, make some progress, adapt and then the way becomes more visible.

Buckle down; confront the problem, any problem.  Keep it simple. Focus on accomplishing one small thing; cross something off the list; build momentum.  Differentiate between what is important, break it into manageable tasks, begin progressing and save for later that which can be accomplished later. Frequently just working on the issue begins to make the problem seem less challenging than originally perceived.

A good friend, widowed with two young children, once shared a powerful statement which I reflect on during difficult circumstances. “The world holds up success and the easy life as good and color-filled and paints suffering as darkness.  But I have found that suffering adds the color to our life.”

Most business problems pale in comparison to natural disaster, unjustified imprisonment, critical illness, death of a loved one, etc. But adversity is ever-present and often stressful in our day-to-day environment.  Welcome adversity as a learning experience and keep moving forward. Perhaps you too can find color in the hardship.

I would be interested in hearing your advice and tactics in overcoming tough times.
You can reach me on LinkedIn at: Ron Scheese or Twitter at: @RScheese


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