Negotiating with Chaos

Originally published in HR C-Suite, a website devoted to HR Professionals.


You know that moment when your life is struck by something so out of the realm of possibility that it makes you stop and catch your breath? That moment when chaos strikes – again – taking you by complete surprise and overwhelming you with all the change, disruption, and uncertainty it brings along with it. 

I don’t know about you but for years, I railed against chaos. I actually tried to negotiate with her.   

“Now listen,” I’d say, “this is the absolute worst possible time for a measles outbreak. We were going to roll out that HR database we so desperately need. Could you possibly give me, and this entire population a break? Could we just not have a measles outbreak this year?”  Chaos didn’t answer. 

“A typhoon? Really? I mean ok, of course I’ll go to the Philippines tomorrow, but this time could you make things on the ground not so ugly and heart wrenching?”  Chaos didn’t listen. 

“Fighting broke out, all movements are restricted, AND the internet is down? But I’ve got to fill out the forms and deliver them to the guy so we can get our supplies out of customs jail.  Maybe we could have peace today and start fighting again on Wednesday.”  Chaos didn’t care. 

Perhaps more whining than negotiating but truth was, I knew going in that chaos doesn’t negotiate. That in the end, I’d have to deal with whatever she laid before me. So, after wasting precious time in fruitless negotiations, I’d arrive at reality, slump my shoulders, let out a big sigh, and say what was really on my mind from the beginning, “I’m scared.” Chaos only smiled. 

Until one day I got tired of Chaos sweeping me off my feet and into its swirls, whenever it pleased. Tired of constantly being reminded that about the only thing in my life I have control over is the shape of my eyebrows. So, I thought about it and decided that what I needed was a Chaos Kit. ]


What’s a Chaos Kit?
It’s like an Emergency Kit
but with different things inside.

 We prepare for emergencies and tuck away things that take care of our physical needs. Things like band aids, blankets, dark chocolate, and water. So why aren't we tucking away a Chaos Kit with things that take care of our really important needs. Things like our connections with others, our outlook on the future, and the transformation of our perspectives and the expansion of possibilities.


What goes in a Chaos Kit?
Solid connections, wide-open perspectives,
and expectations for transformation.

Solid connections. I’m talking about the kinds of connections that take lots of time and lots of tea to create. Connections that are built on complete trust and are in place before chaos hits. I have spent considerable time with my people making sure we all know exactly who to call when in need of empathy, the truth, or a ride home, because it turns out, it’s not always the same person.  I’ve also made it a point that wherever I am in this world, I know my neighbors and they know me.  I just never know who I’m going to have to give my keys to. 

I have come to trust these solid connections so much so, that when they look deeply into my eyes and say, “Maybe you need a nap,” without question, I stop what I’m doing and go take a nap.  

Wide-open perspectives. I wasted a lot of time trying to force chaos into my very little box labelled What I Know and Understand.  Chaos has never, not once, fit into any such box. So, I changed the label to What I Never Once Considered.

“Really? The plane can’t land because there are too many cows on the runway, and we can’t find the owner?”  It never once occurred to me that cows would be the one factor that would disrupt a global-wide supply chain that until this moment had worked perfectly.

“Ok, going forward, let’s see about hiring someone from the community to make sure the landing strip is clear the two days a week we fly supplies in.” 

Expectations for transformation. One thing I know, no matter what, if we look for it, there is always a silver lining. And trust me, like you, I too have seen some pretty hellacious chaos in my lifetime. I too have seen the very dark side and know all too well the deep hurt and pain chaos can bring. The paralyzing fear and unimaginable suffering it asks us to bear.

But somehow, on the other side of the dark, there is always light. There is always transformation. We become more connected, increase our levels of resilience, uncover new paths. Our walls crumble, our hearts expand, and that is when we become fuller versions of ourselves.


So, over the years, while Chaos continued to redefine my normal, I continued to cultivate my Chaos Kit.  And then one day Chaos unexpectedly arrived again and this time I was ready. This time, instead of calling it bad names and trying to negotiate, I picked up my Chaos Kit and invited Chaos to tea.

 “All right,” I said while pouring Chaos her tea, “you’re here and there’s nothing I can do about it. So how about this. You go right ahead and disrupt all my plans. Do it. Shake me to my core, have me question my preconceived notions, and force me to deal with the very things I fear most. And as you do so, here is what I also expect from you, I expect you to bring to my world mystery and awe. And I expect you to transform me into a better version of myself.” 

Chaos took a sip of tea, stood up, and before returning to her work, she winked at me.


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