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The 5Rs: Five strategies to help you overcome challenges at work

Challenges are everywhere in life, whether at work or in life, the key to conquering them is to learn how to overcome these hurdles, one step at a time. Depending on the individual, their coping methods could vary between avoidance, habituation, active confrontation or being assertive. Many challenges at work can be overcome through active communication, a shift in perception and mindset, and the use of positive psychology. Whether you are an employee or an employer, we can all learn the 5R strategy to navigate through hardships in life and at work.

Before we go on, let’s consider the following scenario, which we will apply as we progress through the 5R ladder.

“Peter recently received an offer to work at a call center as a customer service agent. A month into his new job, he received a letter from HR stating that he has been placed under a 2-week performance plan or risk facing retrenchment. The news came as a shock to him and there was no reasoning behind the decision, and it has caused him immense stress and anxiety. He now has 2 weeks to demonstrate improvement at work. Using the principles of the 5R, highlight how you would address the situation and accompanying stress as Peter.”

The first R - Reframe

We tend to catastrophize and avoid dealing with certain issues when we find ourselves in a difficult situation. This so-called fight-or-flight response, is the process in which the mind determines if we possess the necessary capacity to face the present challenge head on, or cower and run. Instead of focusing on the negatives and the consequences, try to focus on the positive and the growth accompanying the challenge. Our thoughts condition the way we perceive current challenges and circumstances around us. As we attempt to reframe our thought process, we may find ourselves falling into the traps of negative thinking. If this happens, try to identify triggers and the associated behaviors that cause you to feel that way. Here’s a picture that perfectly illustrates the process of reframing your thoughts.

@eriboycott from Twitter

Applying Reframe into Peter’s situation above - Instead of perceiving the performance plan as a threat to his career, Peter could turn the table around and see it as an opportunity to grow and perform under pressure.

“The management must have placed me under a performance plan because I am bad at my job. I am going to lose my job!” → “Although I do not know the reason for the performance plan, this opportunity gives me the room to perform under pressure and allows me to grow.”

The second R - Restructure

Learning how to break down issues or problems into simple components and addressing them rationally and systematically is an important step of the process. The importance of restructuring cannot be overstated. Now, you not only have an overview of the challenge at hand, but also the ability to address the problems methodically. Restructuring your problems and challenges at work is like creating a mind map, you learn to link two elements together, visualize the likely outcome of the issue, and formulate a solution.

Image courtesy of Mind Map Inspiration

Here’s what we would have suggested Peter to do.

1. Define the problem at hand → That is the performance plan

2. Identify the party overseeing the plan → The HR

3. Recognize concerning factors under the performance plan → performance, work timeliness, work attendance

4. Specify the expectations that accompany the plan → What is expected out of the 2-week performance plan? The more tangible the metric, the better. In this case, customer service roles usually concern the topic of KPI, which may include the number of messages/customers responded to in a day

5. Consider the possible outcomes of the discussion → i) The HR may decline to speak about the performance plan, ii) The HR may choose to have a discussion with Peter, iii) If the talk with HR is not helpful, who else can Peter speak to?

6. Revise and finetune the steps if necessary

The third R - Rehearse

Once you have worked out your problems and identified the causes and solutions to these challenges, the next step in the process is to continuously practice these measures until you are comfortable implementing them in the actual scenario. Practice makes perfect. You may want to consider a simulation or mockup. For example, if you wish to speak to your employers about an issue at work, you may approach a colleague who is willing to act the part and provide you with feedback during the practice. Having a third party’s perspective provides you insight into mistakes or oversights that you may not have previously noticed. In this case, Peter may choose to confide his problems to a trusted colleague at work, and seek their help in creating a mock conversation.

Once you are ready for the real thing, it’s time to start putting your measures into action!

The fourth R - Reflect

There are 2 ways Peter’s performance plan could have turned out - 1) He had failed his performance plan and was laid off. 2) He passed the performance plan and retained the role.

Essentially, the verdict is out, what’s next? The next part of the process is to review and reflect on the events that transpired following the event. Whether it was a positive or negative outcome, it is important that you learn to take things in positive strides. If things did not go as planned, do not beat yourself up over what has happened, instead learn to reap the victory from your failures. Here are some examples of positive reflections.

If Peter was let go from his job, there is no need for him to be upset. Instead, he could tell himself this, “At least I have tried and I know that this job may not be meant for me. Now I know I should avoid accepting customer service roles.” OR, “I have successfully passed the performance plan. The next time the HR speaks to me about my performance again, I’ll bear in mind to clarify what is it that they expect from me.”

The fifth R - Repeat

You can only learn and hone your skills as much as you work on them, and repetition allows you to polish your techniques. The next time you are confronted with a similar situation at work, you can apply what you’ve learned from the past into your current experience. With every repeated success and failure that you’ve encountered in your endeavor, you grow and learn a little more. The next time Peter encounters an obstacle in his current or new job again, he can rely on his problem-solving techniques to address other issues and in the process, refine and sharpen his problem-solving skills!

Shifting perspectives…

Sometimes, all it takes is a simple shift in mindset to overcome the challenges in life and at work. As the saying goes, the same boiling water that softens the spaghetti hardens the egg. It is not the problem that matters, but how we overcome it that does.

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