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Carol Kinsey GomanWhile we can’t control the economy or the other forces of change, we can position ourselves to survive and even thrive in challenging times.

Here are a dozen tips to consider, whether you feel secure or think your job may soon disappear:

1. Don’t get caught unaware. Too often, workers fail to recognize the early signs of looming layoffs, downsizing or shutdowns and are caught by surprise when they find themselves without a job. Keep your eyes open for signs of trouble: Notice if there are large-scale layoffs throughout your industry, if new competitors are increasingly crowding the market, or if demand for your company’s product or service is dropping.

2. Imagine the worst-case scenario and make a plan. What if you lost your job? What would you do? When you examine and confront the situation, you can consider possible options. At the very least, you will feel that you have more control over your reactions if that scenario should indeed occur. Here’s the trick: Once you have a plan of action, stop focusing on the potential downside and start searching for potential opportunities.

3. Neutralize your fear. Neuroscience tells us that when the brain’s fear system is active, exploratory activity and risk-taking are turned off. You can start to neutralize that system by avoiding people who are all “doom and gloom” about the economy and by turning off the constant barrage of bad news from the media.

4. Keep a positive attitude. You never know when a seemingly negative situation may turn out to be for the best. If your job changes or disappears, it’s an excellent chance to learn something new, discover untapped skills and meet new people. If you keep a positive attitude, you’ll be able to rally your energy toward furthering your career – regardless of the circumstances.

5. Stay in the game. In tough times, your first reaction may be to “hunker down.” Nothing could be less helpful. This is a time to become very visible in your organization. In a recent survey of 150 business executives, 49 percent said they consider an employee’s dedication to the company’s mission and values when downsizing. So volunteer for projects, take credit for your success, and speak up. And if you can come up with ways your organization can save money – now is your time to really shine!

6. Watch what you don’t say. Use positive body language in meetings: maintain good eye contact, sit forward in your chair, and lean slightly toward the person who is speaking. All of these are nonverbal signals that you are engaged and energized.

7. Read the body language of your boss. Only a small part of what you subconsciously interpret from what people say to you comes from the words they use. You get most of the message (and all of the emotional nuance behind the words) from vocal tone, pacing, facial expressions and body language. Now is the time to hone this innate but latent ability and turn it into a survival skill.

8. Get a life. It’s a fact documented by my over 30 years of research: people with interests beyond their professions and organizations are more resilient under stress and more effective on the job. From art to music to sports to friends and family, you’ll deal better with work-related transition and trauma when your life includes a healthy counterbalance.

9. Never stop learning. Now and in the future, your value to any organization depends less on what you know and more on how quickly you can update your knowledge to respond to changing conditions. If you haven’t already done so, now is the perfect time to join a professional association, talk with colleagues, and read trade magazines in your field to update your knowledge of trends and issues.

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10. Network, network, network. First, understand the importance of “social capital.” Capital is defined as “accumulated wealth, especially as used to produce more wealth.” Social capital is the wealth (or benefit) that exists because of your social relationships. Think of social capital as the value created by your connections to others. There is no more valuable commodity in today’s volatile business environment.

11. Take time to mourn. The beginning of anything new always means the death of the old. Restructuring means changing the way work gets done and walking away from the competence and confidence you gained under the old system. Losing a job means leaving a workplace, friends and mentors. With every ending comes a period of mourning where it is natural (and healthy) to grieve for what you have lost. In fact, doing so will help you let go of the past so that you can more quickly move on to whatever the future holds.

12. Go for it! An uncertain future can be stressful and traumatic. But it can also be exhilarating and fun. Make a conscious choice to embrace change as an incredible adventure. Savour it. Exploit it. Enjoy it!

Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence. For interview requests, click here.

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