How do you react during upheaval or challenging times in your workplace? Perhaps it might be an organizational restructure, a new competitor in the market, or sudden and unexpected changes in your workplace. When you’re up against it, it can feel that you don’t really have much say over what happens, and you’re just being blown around by what’s happening to you. But could choosing how you show up in these times make a difference to you and others?

“I’ve found when faced with disasters or challenges that some people can become victims while others are just unstoppable,” said Dr. Dan Diamond from the University of Washington School of Medicine, and author of Beyond Resilience: Trench-Tested Tools to Thrive Under Pressure when I interviewed him recently. “And during those times, no matter what your circumstances, you can always choose how you respond.”

It seems it doesn’t just take an emergency to bring out these types of responses; they can also appear in the day-to-day struggles you may face in your workplace. Dan has found that there are four different mindsets that you can adopt at any given time: victim, bystander, controller or thriver. These mindsets are underpinned by two dimensions that are in a constant state of movement: power (feeling powerful or powerless) and purpose (being a giver or taker).

  • Victim mindset – you show up as a powerless taker. Your focus is only looking after yourself. You’re mostly motivated by fear, and start hoarding resources and feel isolated from others. Unfortunately, your fear can become contagious and spread to others in the workplace.
  • Bystander mindset – you act asa powerless giver. While you may wish to take action, you don’t believe that you have the power to make any difference. You show up to the workplace but don’t take responsibility for contributing anything more than the basics.
  • Controller mindset – you’re in the powerful taker mode and do what you can to protect your turf. This can include demanding more than your fair share of resources, undermining the work of others you perceive to be a threat, and regarding any suggestions for improvement as criticisms.
  • Thriver mindset – you show up as a powerful giver. You believe that you have the power to make some difference and you’re willing to put other’s interests first. As you’re committed to serving your team and making your colleagues more successful, you can become the most valued, effective and sought-after member of a team.

It’s important to keep in mind though that these four mindsets are just that, mindsets and not types of people. And chances are that during your day you may shift in and out of different mindsets. However, you’re likely to have a primary mindset that you slide into more easily when you’re under stress. But stepping back and choosing a thriver’s mindset can help you meet your challenges with more momentum and enthusiasm, and find ways to turn your adversities into opportunities, pressure into productivity and chaos into solutions.  

“When you’re working in a thriver’s mindset, you’re continually restocking your supplies, but the moment you shift into the other three mindsets, you start depleting them,” advised Dan. “And if you stay there, you’ll eventually run out of supplies – and it’s a very short distance between that and the symptoms of burnout.”

So, how can you adopt a thriver’s mindset more consistently?

Dan shares three ways to help you and your team make the shift towards a thriver’s mindset.

  • Listen to your internal dialogue – when you’ve made certain decisions or took action in the midst of difficult or turbulent times tune in to the messages, what were you saying to yourself? How were you feeling? What were your actions based on? And if you’re choosing the victim’s mindset, ask yourself why you want to stay there and what’s in it for you? Then moving to a thriver mindset takes two questions: “Am I going to be powerful or powerless?” and “Am I going to be a giver or a taker?” This can change your internal dialogue, where you look, what changes you see, and your emotions, actions, and impact.
  • Have mindset conversations – start by drawing the mindset grid on a whiteboard where the vertical line is power, with powerful at the top and powerless at the bottom. The horizontal line has takers on the left and givers on the right. The upper right is thrivers, the lower right is bystanders, the lower left is victims, and the upper left is controllers. Leave it somewhere for a few days where your team can see it, and then ask them where they think they are most of the time. It’s important to assure them that this is not to label people, mindsets are fluid, and it’s a way for them to look internally at what mode they might use at certain times.
  • Use the disaster improv model – remember that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. The truth is we are all constantly learning and improvising our way to success, particularly when times are tough, and it matters most. Disaster-Improve embraces three distinct phases of:
    • See – take the time to ask questions and perceive with depth what is unfolding around you. Dan has found that writing down your answers to questions on a checklist such as the Phoenix Checklist tool used by the CIA can be helpful. 
    • Sort – define the needs and outline the risks you need to manage and the resources you have to draw upon. Prioritize your challenges so you know in what order to tackle things.
    • Solve – put together a plan and acting on it, knowing that solve may not be the final phase but that it may bring your right back to see again until an acceptable solution is reached.

What can you do to make the shift into a thriver’s mindset more often?