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Chaos to opportunity

How in the world can you be productive in the midst of chaos? Short staffing, a manager who doesn’t care, angry customers and rampant disorganization could all cause even the most well intended employee to crack up. Yet, ironically, chaos also presents unique opportunities.

It’s high time you lasso this culprit before irreversible brain damage occurs. Here are 5 steps to turn the tables on chaos.


1. Practice Emotional Disengage

In the heat of the moment, tempers can, and often do flare up. That’s a clear sign it’s time to back off and keep a cool head. Size up the situation by separating emotionally charged comments from useful feedback.

To effectively filter individual reactions, make it a practice to listen first. Once convinced that you have completely heard all concerns, summarize and repeat back the main points. This will confirm your understanding of the matters being communicated.

Careful listening provides the opportunity to diffuse emotions and calm choppy waters.

2. Stop Enabling

Work isn’t getting done. But you’re dependable, right? Well, get ready for the overflow.

But maybe serving as the equivalent of a sanitation manager isn’t for you. Does it make you a tad resentful? Hey, backups are usually a good thing (unless it’s the sewer).

Shut off the %^&* spigot, will ya? When you stop covering up the lack of accountability, you discourage the enabling process. Here’s an opportunity to expose toxic people for who they are and undertake poison control.

3. Start Initiating

Don’t just wait for a solution. Make it happen. Once the smoke clears, everyone is looking for leadership.

Why not you? Armed with what you know, step forward with an action plan. Your boss may even get rid of that snooty look and welcome the load being lifted.

Your initial efforts should focus on processes to be improved. Not jumping the gun to have employees disciplined or even fired is an opportunity to display character. Success in bringing people together without resorting to drastic measures is an important accomplishment for a leader.

4. Analyze the Problem

Make three columns on a piece of paper. In the left column, describe the way things are now. In the right column, describe how you and your coworkers believe things should be. In the center column, describe the actions necessary to move from where your workplace is to where it needs to be.

On the reverse side of the paper, list the consequences to all employees of the problem(s) not being addressed. Also list the benefits of a resolution. Now you have the opportunity to ask everyone to take ownership of the problem and the process of remedying it.

5. Learn From Mistakes

  • Chaos breeds ugliness in many people and stifles productivity. Choose to rise above that and set a positive example.
  • In the center of the storm don’t panic: stay grounded. It’s not usual that chaos suddenly appears. Normally it builds to a crescendo over a period of time.
  • Don’t let communication channels get clogged like a 95 year old’s arteries. Do your part in keeping the workplace open by embracing diversity.
  • Stay in touch with everyone’s hot buttons. Those usually include workload, deadlines and balance between work and personal life. Perceptions rule too: how you view others and how you think they see you.


  • Plan for interruptions. They are going to happen so anticipate them and be prepared.
  • Go AWOL if it’s unproductive to fight a battle but you want to win the war. (You don’t intend to escape but should emerge unscathed.)
  • Don’t fight chaos by adding more chaos. Fires are put out with water- not flammable actions and words.
  • Madness can be contagious. Take precaution to avoid viral circumstances.
  • Try to look at the drama as intriguing- not conflicting. It’s a coping mechanism that may help you to temporarily make it through the chaos.
  • Remember that many employees are sometimes measured less by results and more by adaptability. Can you be nimble in the face of change?
  • Stay aware. Don’t be crazy enough to think that you can fix the problem(s) yourself. Take off your superhero cape but don’t completely ignore what is happening around you either.
  • Direct your attention to positive outcomes that you control. Don’t focus on things clearly out of your control.
  • You can make the grass greener just by watering it. You don’t have to go to the other side only to find weeds. Getting through the chaos is a growth opportunity.

“Good timber does not grow with ease: the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.” ~J. Willard Marriott

So, the next time it looks like your workplace is becoming chaotic, don’t become angry, reach for the antacids and start losing sleep. Neither you nor your family deserves that. Instead, treat the inevitable as an opportunity you really wouldn’t want to miss.

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