How to turn your anxiety into curiosity

By Portia Hickey, Chartered Psychologist and co-creator of The Smart Collaboration Accelerator

failure, stressed woman, female leaderWhile many business leaders and entrepreneurs have made it through the pandemic, there is a growing fear around getting through a second wave and finding new business opportunities.

This fear – what I would call pipeline anxiety – is entirely understandable but not very helpful. Such anxiety, or stress, impairs our short term memory, reduces the amount of information we can pay attention to and generally makes us more irritable.

If these feelings sound familiar, the good news is that you’re not alone and you can overcome it. Make one simple shift in your mindset. Instead of letting the uncertainty unsettle you, get curious about it. By activating a more curious mindset, you enhance the likelihood that you will spot the emerging opportunities and positively embrace them, rather than getting worried by them.

Be more cat – be more curious

One of the best ways to shift to curiosity, rather than anxiety, is by depersonalising your experience. You are not failing; we are in a paradigm-shifting moment in history. So what is the new paradigm? Speak to others in your industry and read trade publications to understand the macro-trends. Your client or customer problems have changed – so what are they now? What do they need now that they didn’t need before? These types of questions and interrogations will encourage creative thinking about new ways to win new business.

Collaborate across your team

Actively encouraging collaboration between employees and leadership will boost not only wellbeing, creativity and self-esteem, but also new business opportunities. Data from the 2008 recession shows that professional service firm partners that collaborated saw very little downturn during the recession and successfully won new business. 

Get to know your clients’ problems

The pandemic is a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) problem for nearly all companies. The good news is that research from Dr Heidi Gardner of Harvard Law School shows that these VUCA problems are of high-value and require integrated, multi-specialist expertise to address – which is where your business could come in.

Be curious about your clients. Instead of telling your clients how you’re navigating the pandemic, ask them how they’re getting on. Be honest about how your business is faring, and you’ll notice them open up, too. These insights are absolutely priceless – they’ll help you build your relationship with your current clients and will give you inspiration for new business pitches.

Question your team to get them curious too

If you’re worrying about work, you have to assume that your team is, too. Get the gang together (virtually is fine) and get them to be curious about the changes they see and therefore the potential positive opportunities out there. Maintaining optimism is a critical part of resilience, and this type of thinking fosters innovation. That doesn’t mean you deny people’s anxious or negative feelings; it is about striking a balance. Everyone has their own network, but if they’re feeling isolated, they might dismiss or keep opportunities for themselves. Dedicated time for curious, optimistic, opportunistic thinking helps your team see that although the future is uncertain, it can still be bright.

With the right mindset and working practices in place, the pandemic presents an opportunity to think differently and work in a new way. Reframing it from a wholly negative experience to one to investigate and be curious about will go a long way to coming out of it as successful, if not more so, than before.

Portia HickeyAbout the author

Portia Hickey is a Chartered Psychologist and co-creator of the Thrive Matters ‘accelerator’ platform. Portia advises Fortune and FTSE 100 companies as well as some of the largest law firms in the world on leadership assessment and development. She has recently launched the Smart Collaboration Accelerator, a psychometric test for collaboration skills, particularly useful for engaging staff while working remotely.


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