‘There is nothing certain, but the uncertain.’
We strive for certainty within our lives, for assurances that provide us with confidence. We seek security against the unknown. Indeed, the need for certainty and our ability to predict the future is identified as one of the social concerns which drives our behaviours in David Rock’s SCARF model.
Our ability to know what’s coming next impacts upon our wellbeing and our satisfaction. When we have the opposite of a sense of certainty, when we are unclear, we can feel out of control and as if things are being done to us.
The truth is, of course, that there are no guarantees in life, and the only absolute thing of which we can be sure is uncertainty. There are however ways in which companies can provide confidence and manage expectations to support the wellbeing of their people, and increase satisfaction.
There is a well-known saying that knowledge is power and we are empowered when we have access to information. Which is why consistent, regular and transparent communications are so crucial within organisations. Companies which regularly communicate with their people, their customers, their partners will provide assurances. And, it is vital that companies keep communicating, keep sharing knowledge even when there is ‘nothing new to say.’ Uncertainty thrives in communication voids.
It is vital too that people are given clarity about what is expected of them. Organisations with clear goals which are disseminated into individual objectives will lead to people understanding their role, how they fit in, and what is required of them. People need direction, a sense that they know where they are going – even if the path may change.
It is also essential that people have a degree of control and influence over decisions, and companies should seek regular opportunity to give people a meaningful stake in what is happening. This leads to a sense of ownership, and a feeling of control. This is especially important when an organisation is going through significant change which can be extremely destabilising organisationally and individually.
It is not just what an organisation can do, it’s also about what we can do for ourselves. The truth is that in any situation, we have power. There is always, always something we can control – even if it’s just our emotions. Looking at what we can control and what we can influence through uncertainty – particularly when we are experiencing unexpected and unplanned change – allows us to see where our power lies.
Then there is acceptance. Which is absolutely fundamental. We all strive to mitigate uncertainty through planning and thinking and putting steps in place to prevent certain things happening and to create the conditions for the outcome we desire. As we absolutely should: planning is key to achieving the things we want. But even so, even with all our best efforts, life is still a great uncertainty and in accepting this, we are more open-minded and indeed resilient to respond to the things that will inevitably happen that fall outside of our plans.
And beyond accepting uncertainty as part of life, joy can be found in whole-heartedly embracing it. Because there is huge potential in the uncertainty. There is incredible opportunity in the unknown. It is ok that we don’t know what might come next on our path. Many of the greatest successes, the biggest adventures don’t come from our plans but out of the unexpected. Because as Margaret Drabble said: “When nothing is sure, everything is possible.”