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Facing Uncertainties on the Job
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 11/09/2015

Question mark2 The brain works in mysterious ways. In fact, it is safe to say that not minds think alike and that solving problems or facing personal or professional challenges could be handled differently in some cases as there are multiple uncertainties in life and in the workplace that are not alike.

As a new officer, we tend to become extremely cautious and to some degree fearful when we first start on the job and think of survival tactics. It’s natural and as time goes by, your self-confidence grows and fear levels diminish but you still remain cautious as your instincts have evolved into sharper senses.

At least we hope so as that is a key to your survival. What we are talking about are ‘rookie mistakes’ that can be avoided if you take some advice and take some easy steps to make facing your uncertainties easier to deal with and understand.

There are important decisions to make every day in detention or correction settings. There are certain rules that must be followed and how you get your job done is based on your mentality and ability to do so. We are taught to never overreact but it’s easier said than done in some cases.

To be successful in this profession, you must learn how to override your involuntary ‘fight or flight’ mechanism and refer to rational thinking instead even though you may be faced with minimal amounts of information to base your decision on. We have to learn to keep our faculties in check and prevent the brain from overreacting.

We have to learn and train our brain to prevent panic and go into a survival mode that is overwhelmingly cautious in nature. When such instincts are over-evolved, it becomes a hindrance in the workplace and creates hesitation and procrastination.

What may be deemed to be fear is really a mental overreaction of caution. This kind of self-control requires developing emotional intelligence [EQ] which is something we all possess but can be boosted or improved by doing certain things at uncertain times. Some ways to boost your EQ are:
  • Stay positive – don’t engage in knee jerk actions or reactions. Facing uncertainties can best be dealt with when you remain in control of self and your actions. Focus on accurate and rational sources of information to go on.
  • Use your knowledge to the best of your ability- Gather the facts, compile them and identify a strategy to overcome the situation. Remember that they don’t know what you know so use that to an advantage.
  • Identify what you can control and can’t control – although tempted to take control, sometimes we can’t control everything we want to so focus on managing those factors you can control. Don’t make it any harder and analyze the facts as they are, not as you want them to be.
  • Decide what is most important when facing uncertainty – focus your energy on what really matters. Don’t waste your time making decisions during uncertain times on getting stuck on bad decisions. Learn to balance your decisions based on priorities and capabilities to handle them effectively.
  • Don’t seek perfection on your analysis or your target – don’t set yourself up for failure if you delve too deeply into the problem solving situation. If perfection is your goal, you will surely end up failing so enjoy what you are able to achieve and accomplish.
  • Face your problems but don’t dwell on them – if you dwell on problems you face and create prolonged stress and negative emotions that hinders performance. Focus on positive actions and emotions that allows you to create positive results and better performance. Preoccupation of problems solves nothing.
  • Trust your gut instinct – intuition is a powerful tool. For survival, we have learned how to use this instinct to our best benefit. Always listen to your instincts. Reject impulsive thinking reactions for they are often not tried and true strategies to rely on. Reduce mistakes and making assumptions the best you can.
  • Filter your feelings and emotions – don’t let the negativity overcome your ability to identify the facts. Sorting out negativity means sorting out opinions or assumptions that do not support your intuition or instinctive feelings.
  • Always create a contingency plan – uncertain situations are not always good enough for solid planning so make sure you understand that if one strategy isn’t working, you have the ability to follow another plan or direction so having a second plan is suggested for better decisions.
  • Don’t throw the “what ifs” into your plans – this is a waste of precious time and if you have a good contingency plan, the ‘what ifs’ don’t matter. This will keep you calm and lower your stress levels giving you a better opportunity to make better decisions and keeps them focused on the problem at hand.
Remain calm and make good decisions under pressure and when facing uncertainties. When you have a stressful situation, breathe and focus solely on the task at hand. Avoid distractions and take a couple of moments to breathe. This will do more good for your brain than anything else. It sounds simple but yet, under pressure, it is one of the hardest things to do.

Remember that when faced with uncertainty the main goal is to overcome the challenge and bring it all together to make it a manageable situation. There is no need for complete control and self-control is an essential part of your decision making skills.

Using the tactics above, your ability to handle uncertain situation will be enhanced enough to build on your ability to handle more complex and more difficult situations in the future. Remember that practice is essential to become a better problem solver and the more you get involved, the more you learn to control your EQ and contribute to your team, shift, facility or your organization.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:


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