As internal auditors, we all face adversity over the course of our professional journey. At times, the challenges can be as simple as the frustration of dealing with a client who doesn’t see things the way we do. At other times, our careers and lives may be radically altered by uncontrollable events, such as a layoff, recession, serious health issue, or family crisis.
I will be the first to admit that I have been very fortunate to not have faced many instances of profound adversity. Like almost everyone, I have had moments of professional and personal disappointment, but nothing compared with what some of my colleagues have endured. I learned long ago that you cannot always tell how a person will respond to adversity — particularly a setback in one’s professional career. Some let such disappointments define them, but others rise from the ashes and climb to even greater heights. In the end, I believe that you can tell more about the content of a person’s character by how they handle themselves in adversity than in prosperity.
While we may face life- and career-altering adversity occasionally, we face varying levels of adversity every day. Whether it is the frustration of an unforeseen traffic jam on the way to work, the annoyance upon arriving at work that your servers are down and email is not available, or facing an impasse with an audit client who vehemently disagrees with your internal audit results, adversity is part of the fabric of life.
Each of us responds in our own way. Over the course of my life and career, I have developed a personal set of principles that I try to draw upon regardless of the seriousness of the adversity I face.
First, I try to park my emotions at the door. It can be difficult to analyze a problematic situation with the additional burden of heightened emotions. But if you can stay calm and assess the issue and alternative solutions objectively, you are more likely to make better decisions.
Second, to paraphrase from a well-known serenity prayer, I try and accept the things I cannot change, muster the courage to change the things I can, and leverage wisdom to know the difference. Many events will be beyond our control, so an important step in confronting adversity is to separate what you can address successfully from what you cannot. When you prioritize your attention and efforts on what you can control, you’re more likely to navigate the challenge or crisis successfully.
Third, take the time to formulate a plan. Spur-of-the-moment decisions under stress often lead to mistakes. No matter how bad things are, the truth is you can make things worse. So, even if you want to reach a quick resolution, you should weigh the alternatives carefully. In work situations, you may need to evaluate time constraints, personalities, and other factors, as well as identify a solution to the problem. Adequate analysis and planning on the front end could reduce stress and frustration. Methodically evaluating your options will help you find the best path out of a bad situation.
Fourth, concentrate on communications. It is almost always helpful to communicate with those who are in the best position to help you navigate adversity — or are the source of the problem. But when facing adversity in the workplace, communications must be handled carefully. Your professional reputation can be damaged if you are seen as a whiner or complainer, especially if you resort to assessing blame or criticizing co-workers or management. Approach each situation with a positive, problem-solving attitude. If the situation warrants it, don’t forget to include apologies in your communications.
Finally, keep in mind that, no matter how or when you deal with a problem, it likely won’t be your last brush with adversity. This is part of life, but by addressing each bout of adversity with the right attitude, you can persevere, learn valuable lessons, and ultimately achieve resolution.