Reframe the situation

Many times we are faced with a situation that seems to stay static forever.  It does not provide any new opportunities, feels impossible to change, leads to frustration and presents a deadlock.

We see this in our career (lack of growth opportunities), sports (of shorter duration, but with no breakthrough in sight) and even in the news.

In this post I will show you a few ways to think differently and reframe the situation in your mind.  This re-framing will then force you to think of what “could be” and then prepare for the new situation.  It will open up your mind to other possibilities and give you more options.

This is also a great way of developing situational awareness, and can help you get prepared for future opportunities.

Remove a key assumption or a forced restriction that you may have placed:

If you’ve seen the Keanu Reeves movie Speed, then in the first part when his colleague is held hostage by the bomber, Keanu shoots his colleague in the leg.  The explanation later was to “take the hostage out of the equation”.  Once the hostage “condition” was taken out, the bomber had no recourse and the whole situation changed in Keanu Reeves’ favor.

When you have a situation where you do not see a solution easily, try eliminating one or few of the key assumptions or entities.  It may seem preposterous at first, but it is still worth a try.

Make the situation worse or better in your mind, and then re-consider your options:

While batting during a cricket match, every now and then I add two extra wickets to the score and then consider what the situation could transform into.  150 runs for 2 wickets seems like a great situation if we still have half the overs left to still bat.  But 150 for 4 wickets in the same scenario is not good, so we need to maneuver more carefully. 

Making the situation worse, gives a different perspective.

If your career seems to go nowhere, then consider all the slots that could be possible opportunities for you, i.e. ones which could be your next step up.  Then look at the people that are ensconced in those positions, and think from their perspective.  One of them could have been in that position for 4-5 years, i.e. ready to make the next move.  Someone could be thinking of an expatriate assignment (i.e. taking up a short-term assignment in a different country).

In fact you should take up this exercise even with no personal objective.  Think of the senior executives and predict their next roles.  Once they get their new roles, you can assess the correctness of your prediction.

This exercise gives you a good understanding of your company, its organization and the systemic thinking.  As you get better and better with your prediction, not only will you be able to steer yourself into one of those roles but also be able to pick your team better.

Look for a very different assignment:

Position yourself to switch departments, take up a whole new assignment or project or even an expatriate assignment.

Doing so not only broadens your mind and helps you develop different skills, but it also shows a willingness to step out of your comfort zone.  This trait is a hallmark of good leaders.

One of the managers in my company joined another pharmaceutical company, spent two years, and then came back as Director.  She is now well positioned to move up the ranks in my company.

Your different assignment could also be outside your company.  Sometimes the route to climb up could contain a lateral move even to a different company.

Re-think the controllables, and the uncontrollables:

Do not fret over what you cannot control.

That said, you must ensure that you are firmly controlling the things that are within your control.  For example, your performance – which should be well within your control – should be stellar.

Uncontrollables such as a new position, an acquisition, approval of a big project, etc. may not be within your control.  For these, you should think about the steps you can take, such as positioning yourself, networking, etc., and work on those.

Undertake a self-development exercise:

Self-development such as learning a new language, an advanced degree, taking up a volunteering assignment at work, certification, etc. is a big part of being prepared.

Only when you are prepared will you be able to first recognize the opportunity when it arises, and then be able to grab it.

Find a “galvanizer”, bring your “A” game on, and take more responsibility:

A “galvanizer” is someone who spurs you into action.  This could be a colleague or a competitor.  A colleague could help spur a healthy rivalry.  A competitor could spark concerned action on your part.

If you had been plateauing, appearing disinterested at work and going through the motions, a galvanizer will make you bring your “A” game on.

Taking more responsibility at work is always a sign that you are looking for growth and helps unlock opportunities that you would not otherwise be in contention for.

Speak to your mentor(s):

It is a good idea to have a mentor – one who is interested in your well-being and growth – with whom you can share all your thoughts, aspirations and concerns.

During such “stalled” situations, a mentor can bring a different perspective, which would definitely be external and could be unbiased. With the mentor’s input you may be able to recognize other ideas and work out alternative approaches, which you may not have thought possible at first.

Patience, vs. impossibility of the situation:

Patiently navigating through the situation is one thing.  Facing an impossible situation is another.

If after all your due diligence, re-framing and mentor discussions, you come to the conclusion that the situation is going to be impossible for a while, then you just have to move on.

You have to define the time-frame (the duration of “while” in the previous sentence).

Remember you are going to have to start fresh in the new endeavor – it could be a new company, a new department in the same company, a new game, a new project or even a new relationship.

Therefore you have to be convinced that the situation is impossible.

Re-framing works. 

I hope the above structure gives you a different perspective on how to think about impossible situations.