Are you catastrophising too?

Worry-What-if-cartoonA new client arrived to her first coaching session recently in some distress.

She outlined location and structural changes that were taking place at work, as a result of which she was losing sleep, which was a major factor of her distress.

She explained that her concerns were that her team was being allocated an inadequate amount of space and were being consigned to work with a senior manager who, she considered, did not have the best interests of the team at heart. Despite his interventions, the new line manager had stated that he had decided that he would not be staying to see through implementation of the new structure. She felt he had no interest in the welfare of her team and that she had ‘no control’ over their destiny. She was concerned that there was ‘nothing’ she could do to sort things out. Consequently, she also felt she was letting down her staff but was trying to keep them in the picture as much as possible. Phew, lots of stuff came tumbling out there.

First of all, we looked at all the things she was worrying about, eliminating anything that she didn’t have any influence over. Then we talked about what else she could do. It seemed to me that she had done a lot of work giving context about the work of her team to the most influential stakeholders that she had access to and had consciously heightened the profile of the team internally. So she soon agreed that not only could she do ‘something’, she had done things already.

The conversation soon moved on to how she was working through the change with her team. As she talked it through, she realised that not only was she keeping her team up to speed, she was also offloading her concerns about the future. She realised that she may be conveying her anxieties to the team, potentially introducing concerns that they previously did not have and instilling negative/limiting beliefs in them about the future structure of the organisation – their workplace. Unwittingly, her positive intent of keeping staff informed had slipped into a situation where she was creating a tribe of supporters.

We talked about her new line manager and his drivers – she realised that she had not tried to bring him on board and was approaching meetings in a negative state that was impacting her engagement and potentially reputation.

My client left the session much more relaxed and ‘invigorated’ by the control she now felt she had and here’s some of what she took away:

  • If you can’t influence something, there is no value in worrying about it.
  • Plan stakeholder management – what are your overall objectives, who are the influencers or who can influence the influencers, what are your outcomes when speaking to each one, so what is the critical path for any discussions. Determine what the drivers are for each stakeholder – for instance budgets, staff, increasing their profile – are they detailed, or big picture, moving towards future success or away from old problems. All of this can inform meetings and communication with them.
  • Consider staff wellbeing in communications – maintain morale, to create motivation needed to deliver work effectively – the manager’s concerns are influenced by information that only they are privy to and by their own beliefs, not necessarily by reality.
  • Finally, whatever difficulties you think you have, they aren’t real until they exist, and you won’t know what form they’ll take until they are there with you.

So much anxiety is created by catastrophising the future – imaging ‘that’ conversation; seeing, hearing and presuming what is going to happen, what is going to be said, what the ending is. And, often, a self-fulfilling prophesy is created. My client was anticipating the worst in every meeting – so was continually looking for the evidence – as opposed to collaborating on her perception of success. She now goes into meetings with her new presupposition that “this is going to be fun!”. Remember that, if you can create a negative scenario, you can also create a positive one.


When you think about a problem at any time that you can’t actually act on, you create stress for yourself. So if it’s in the future, don’t treat it like a problem. Problems only happen in the moment, in real time. Consider possibilities, but don’t see them as problems, as items worthy of fear.

The Automatic – What’s that coming over the hill?

Transition is the way we come to terms and deal with change. specialise in working with senior management, rising talent and their teams through periods of change. Working with me will enable you to be more effective, providing time to help you think through the implications of change while paying attention to your needs. Should you wish to chat, please do not hesitate to contact me on 07710 624867.

This entry was posted in Change, Coaching, Resilience and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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