Taking Control of the Uncontrollable

When you sell bath products, you don’t expect consumers to believe you are selling a dangerous drug linked to a vicious zombie-like attack in Miami. However, this unlikely scenario recently played out for a number of bath-salt manufacturers, thanks to the notoriety surrounding the drug with the street name of “bath salts.”

This is a perfect illustration of an external force wreaking havoc. Most people face a similar scenario in the course of a career (often many times). You are the top performer, but your whole department gets downsized. You’re forced to spend time and money defending yourself against a frivolous lawsuit. Or your perfectly safe product inherits a connotation that ensures that no mother will put your bath salts in her daughter’s birthday gift basket.

In these situations, it is easy to feel like a victim of circumstance. However, this attitude won’t allow you to regain the upper hand. Though you can’t control external forces, you can control how you react to them.

I often see this play out with the MBA candidates I work with. In this video, I discuss a client who had her heart set on the promotion she deserved, only to find out that her company was freezing all promotions for the calendar year. At first she believed that her whole MBA application hinged on that promotion. However, we discussed the many ways she could take control of the situation: learning new skills, managing a new project and many other strategies that would demonstrate career growth. She soon came to the conclusion that the situation was still very much within her control.

And what about our bath-salt manufacturers? In the days after the May 26 Miami attack, Lee Williamson, whose San Francisco Bath Salt Co. used to show up at the top of web searches for bath salts, noticed his ranking falling as people began searching for drug-related information. While some manufacturers might have lamented the potential lost business, Williamson went to work.

His company sent out press releases explaining the difference between his product and the drugs with the same name, not only educating the public but keeping his company in their minds as well. In short, he took control of a situation that at first glance seemed out of his control.

To do the same the next time life throws you a curveball, keep the following advice in mind:

• Don’t panic. A level head will help you figure out your next steps.

• Consult your brain trust. It’s hard to see clearly when you’re in the middle of a problem. Discuss the situation with trusted friends and colleagues to gain additional perspective and entertain possible solutions.

• Act as swiftly as possible. While we might hope things will blow over on their own, they rarely do. As Lee Williamson’s story demonstrates, turning a situation to your advantage depends on whether you can influence the course of the conversation. You won’t do this by keeping your mouth shut.

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