Over the past decade, many people have experienced dramatic changes in their roles and responsibilities due to workplace readjustments. These readjustments include doing more with less staff, using new technology and shifting business focus to meet customer needs.

While some people enjoy change, many people suffer and struggle to understand what’s expected of them. It’s difficult to have a satisfying and productive workday if you’re unsure of what you’re supposed to do; and, it’s stressful if your day is filled with uncertainty and stressful interactions with coworkers who are also trying to figure things out.

In my workshops on improving workplace communications, I often include the idea that 85% of our environment is out of our control. If we can find our 15% and focus our attention on that, we will be able to manage our workload and communications more easily — with less stress and more fun.

Where did I learn this concept?

The 85:15 Rule is one of the most well known results of the research of W. Edwards Deming, the famous quality guy. Deming found that when the cause of a failure—everything from poor service in a restaurant to a defective radio on an assembly line—was tracked backed to its roots, 85% of the time that failure was due to a poor system. Only 15% of failures were attributable to a specific action, attitude, or inaction on the part of an actual person.

The 85:15 Rule is not an excuse for you to sit back and do nothing about something that is out of your control. It is about finding your 15% and working within it to create change or achieve your desired results. Part of your 15% may involve learning new processes or procedures; keeping a positive attitude in the face of trying circumstance; or reframing your personal mission, goals and values.

This rule is an especially useful to apply when you find yourself getting frustrated with people, processes or procedures. It enables you to take a step back, to focus on the real issues, to avoid trying to solve the unsolvable. With practice it will help you manage those negative conversations that sap your energy because the solutions are beyond your 15%.