Mandy Fabel: Adjusting to Chaos

Guest columnist Mandy Fabel writes, "One of my favorite self-reflection and coaching tools is a personality inventory called the Hogan Assessment. It includes a scale called Adjustment that measures how well you operate in times of uncertainty, complexity, and pressure."

Mandy Fabel

March 09, 20246 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

This quote by Viktor Frankl has been a favorite of mine for a while. For many years my takeaway was to try to slow down and ensure my response was measured, controlled, and without emotion or error.

This strategy worked pretty well on my best days–when I was well rested, caffeinated, well fed, and everyone else played nicely in their own sandbox. Put another way–it worked great with a tailwind, but never with a headwind or crosswind. 

So I have given up. And having coached a few hundred individuals and teams over the past couple of years, I have given up on them too. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

But I have given up on any of us being able to completely control and manage our tendencies and especially our reactions to stress. Instead, I find myself spending a lot more time on the last sentence of Frankl’s quote, “In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

One of my favorite self-reflection and coaching tools is a personality inventory called the Hogan Assessment. It includes a scale called Adjustment that measures how well you operate in times of uncertainty, complexity, and pressure. Assuming you haven’t taken the inventory, here are the two sides of the continuum: 

High Adjustment means just that–you are good at adjusting to changing conditions. You tend to be quick to make the next decision and are not easily overwhelmed by the emotion of a situation.

You can have a million things on your plate and still seem cool as a cucumber. You show grace for yourself and for others, and you don’t mind being in either the authority role or the follower role. 

Low Adjustment means you are more likely to absorb the stress, anxiety, and the emotion of the chaos you are facing. You are likely to be critical of yourself and imagine an endless number of scenarios of what could go wrong. It frustrates you when people tell you what to do, and rarely does anyone live up to your expectations (including yourself). 

If you are already patting yourself on the back for being high Adjustment, let me also tell you the downsides of this style. Those who are high in Adjustment can also be aloof, arrogant, and out of touch with the experiences of those around them.

People grow weary of their “I have a solution” mentality and exhausted by their desire to keep moving forward at all costs. If you are thinking to yourself, “I get that, but I bet I’m not that extreme.” TAKE NOTE, that is exactly what a High Adjustment person would think about themselves. 

And if you were beating yourself up for being Low Adjustment (because that is exactly what low Adjustment people do), let me share a few words of encouragement with you.

Low Adjustment individuals tend to have great self-awareness and situational understanding. They don’t like chaos, but they also need it to generate inertia. Low Adjustment people may become frantic about a pending deadline for a big project, but they also need that deadline to get the work done. 

For those who think you may be somewhere in the middle, it’s definitely possible. But more than likely you still fall of the fence to one side in the most challenging situations. Or if you are exactly in the middle, you may fall off either one of the sides depending on the situation.

If you are still thinking to yourself that you are perfect, you are most certainly High Adjustment and may very well need this article to grow arms and shake you hard enough to believe it. 

Once you have identified your own tendency in stress, the goal is not to completely alter that approach or stop those behaviors tomorrow. That would be impractical.

The goal is to notice what is happening in the moment and steer those tendencies in a positive direction. Here are a few ideas of how to do that: 

High Adjustment (does well with chaos, not easily overwhelmed)

Yes, you are agile and responsive, but you also need to get honest feedback to make sure you are not blindly cruising along in the wrong direction or serving as the grand marshal for a parade of one. Growth and freedom for you is using Frankl’s “space” to check in on everyone else.

And when they tell you about how they are really doing, you must believe them. Success looks like getting to the desired end state with collective high fives instead of everyone pulling their hair out while you proudly say, “See, I knew we could do it.” If you want to keep 1,000,001 things on your plate, that is fine; just tread lightly when your plate is actually the agenda for the entire organization or your family. 

Low Adjustment (short fuse, often critical and hard on yourself):

The most important step of growth and freedom for you is to realize that your emotion and negative lens are simply how your internal system gears up for battle.

Give yourself permission to feel your feelings and play out all the possible scenarios. Just like athletes get a shot of adrenaline from their anxious nerves before a big competition, this is your body’s way of preparing to face the chaos. Trust that it can serve you well.

Be willing to speak up when there is any area where you could use more certainty or when you need to borrow someone else’s confidence. Seek feedback from people who will build you up instead of those who will only take you further down the spiral of doom. 

“Can this change over time?” is a question I get often during coaching sessions. It certainly can, though it is unlikely to shift a great deal unless you go through a life-altering experience.

Most of us are probably stuck pretty darn close to our approach on the day we graduated from high school. But I would remind you, it is not about changing your style as much as it is about learning to see yourself in the moment and recognize what is serving you well and what might not be serving you well. 

If you can stop fighting your own nature and instead harness it, I have a feeling you might just get to experience some of that growth and freedom Viktor Frankl suggests is possible.

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Mandy Fabel