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Becoming Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable


By Kate Baughman, PHR

Human Resources Business Partner


Have you ever heard the phrase, “A little bit of discomfort goes a long way."? I think for many of us, when we think of being uncomfortable, we think about something unpleasant. As human beings, we naturally tend to avoid situations that make us feel uncomfortable and, at the end of the day, it takes courage to intentionally deal with uncomfortable situations. This is also why the ability to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations is the ultimate superpower.


We generally find a situation to be uncomfortable when we are not fully knowledgeable on how to handle it. We want to feel equipped and adept—we want to know exactly what we need to do and how to do it in the best way. So, what kind of training and development avenues are available to businesses to fully prepare and equip their employees and leaders with the tools they need to take on uncomfortable situations? Here are a few options to consider:


Professional Development is the process of improving and increasing the capabilities of staff through access to education and training opportunities for their career. Professional Development maximizes collective knowledge across teams, improves managers’ skill sets across all managerial functions, increases employee loyalty, reduces the cost of potential accidents (or lawsuits), and gives managers and employees the knowledge and skills needed to handle a variety of situations that they may otherwise not be comfortable handling.


Two common avenues of professional development include Technical Skills Development and Soft Skills Development. Technical Skills Development focuses on the know-how and job knowledge required to perform their job well. One of my favorite methods of Technical Skill Development is Job Shadowing. If you have a manager that is new to a department, having them spend dedicated time job shadowing each employee to learn about their jobs and the different challenges that they may face in that role is inexpensive and helps build the employee-manager relationship.


Soft Skills Development focuses on personal attributes that enable employees to interact effectively with other key stakeholders, such as other employees, vendors, and customers. On rare occasions, you may have employees and managers that have natural personality traits that result in strong soft skills; however, this is not often the case. It is so important to have training plans in place that focus on Soft Skills development. Some examples of Soft Skills include Communication, Leadership, Conflict Resolution, Empowerment, Decision-Making, and other important areas. The most common types of soft skill training are web-based learning programs or instructor-based training.


Mentorship is another great way to build an employee’s knowledge and skill set. Mentorship is a relationship between two people in which one person is usually highly experienced in their field, has more knowledge and connections, and is able to pass along what they have learned to a more junior person, who is the “mentee.” Organizations typically employ this by assigning new managers or employees to a worksite mentor. I also want to note that the mentor is typically someone who does not have any reporting authority over the mentee. The mentor benefits by further developing their skill set by leading and advising, while the mentee benefits by the knowledge share and perspective that the mentor can offer. When the mentee encounters new challenges, they can often reach out to their mentor to discuss and obtain feedback on the best way to handle the situation. As this relationship continues, the mentee will become more knowledgeable and obtain additional skill development that further leads them to being comfortable in uncomfortable situations.


Another way to increase an individuals’ knowledge and skill set within an organization is to use developmental stretch and rotational assignments to offer new and challenging learning opportunities. A stretch assignment is a project or task given to an employee, which is beyond their current knowledge or skill-level in order to “stretch” an employee’s development. Similarly, rotational assignments are a consecutive series of short-term work assignments (normally between three and six months each) designed with specific employee development outcomes in mind. The idea is to expose the employee to several different situations or scenarios to expand their knowledge and understanding of different business functions or situations.


The benefit is that these are low-cost initiatives that provide real-world opportunities for the learner to gain exposure to different circumstances and learn how to handle them. Stretch and rotational assignments should push the learner to develop more self-awareness of their leadership skills and should align with both the organizations and learner’s developmental goals.


All too often, Organizations place employees into leadership positions without adequate training and development to ensure that they are competent enough to be successful in a leadership role. This “Sink or Swim” method simply does not work when it comes to Operational Excellence. It often leads to costly mistakes, poor decision-making, and high turnover when these employees are later terminated due to not meeting expectations.


There are many options available to employers when it comes to giving their employees the critical training and development opportunities needed to guarantee that they will be competent within their roles. By investing the proper resources and effort into training and development initiatives, Organizations can ensure they have strong and competent leaders that are able to fully address any situations that may come their way. Leaders that are comfortable with being uncomfortable.

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