Dealing with Unfamiliar Situations

Dealing with unfamiliar situations and people is challenging, of course, because we don’t yet have everything figured out. Over time, we adjust. But how can we get better at dealing with the new and unfamiliar—from the start?

The biological challenge is that we are wired to recognize and process familiar people and situations from a young age. Furthermore, the brain treats “threat” in the same way if you or someone familiar to you is threatened, but responds differently if the person who is threatened is unfamiliar.

These differences apply not just to unfamiliar people, but to unfamiliar processes as well. Thus, when someone or something is unfamiliar, the brain is less engaged and empathic and has to use greater effort as well. What can we do when the people around us or situations in which we find ourselves are constantly changing and unfamiliar as in the current business environment?

First, building up trust and focusing specifically on steps related to this can override the discomfort of unfamiliarity. This implies that when a person or situation is unfamiliar, setting up structures and processes that enhance trust will increase engagement. What are some of these things? Clear communication, being on time, delivering on promises, and fulfilling contractual obligations.

Second,  if you have just entered an unfamiliar situation or find things changing all the time, be aware that your brain will try to slam on the brakes and make a U-turn to old ways of doing things. Hence it is critical that when we are in unfamiliar situations, we must check in with ourselves to deliberately reduce our stress levels. If not, we will be prone to making habitual decisions that were relevant to the past and not the present or future

Finally, when you find yourself in a culturally unfamiliar environment, look for shared subjective characteristics rather than differences only. Elevating a relationship to an art form by producing beautiful and not just timely work will enhance resonance and connection when you are unfamiliar.

Summing-up: Unfamiliar situations can cause a brain-jam if we do not approach them with a conscious sense of how to be. Building up structures that enhance trust, decrease stress and creating an emotional connection with people or a project can help the brain navigate its way to your goals.

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