Tolerance of Ambiguity in the Workplace
One thing that exists in almost any workplace is ambiguity, but do you know how to navigate in the grey? Managing ambiguity is a skill, it is something that can be worked on and developed so that you feel more comfortable embracing uncertainty. The importance of this skill increases as you move “up the ranks” and are relied on more to make decisions even though you may only have incomplete or partial information. Additionally, even if you are given a full read-in to the problem it doesn’t mean that you are allowed to share the information with your team so you may be put in a situation where you are having to teach others how to navigate ambiguous waters as well. Being able to embrace ambiguity will allow you to be able to seize opportunities, take calculated risks and be an effective and efficient decision marker. These tips will help you deal with ambiguity personally and in a team environment.
- Make a decision. Don’t let not having all the facts cause decision paralysis. You won’t always be given all of the information that you want, but a deadline or other pressing concern may mean that you have to make a decision anyway. This doesn’t mean that you react, weigh all of the information in front of you and make the best decision that you can with the information that you have. Taking calculated risks helps keep businesses moving.
- If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask them but don’t be frozen if you aren’t able to get your questions answered. Know going into a question that getting an answer would be nice to have, but don’t make it necessary for you to do your job. Not having all the answers isn’t an excuse to throw your hands up.
- Be empathetic with your team. You know how frustrating ambiguity can be for you, so if you aren’t able to help provide clarity validate your employee’s concerns and feelings. An example of this would be saying “I understand that a lack of clarity can be frustrating”, that statement reflects understanding and shows that you are able to relate to what they’re feeling. These kinds of sentiments can go a long way to squashing any resentment that may begin to build in your team. If you don’t have the answer, that is okay to share as well. It lets your team know that you aren’t withholding information and you all are in the same boat working from the same level of information.
- Be clear and concise when you do have all of the information or once a decision is made. Communicate out what you expect the next steps to be and make sure to check in to verify that everyone is on the same page and understands the work that they’ve been asked to do. If you’re the leader, you have the ability to eliminate some of the ambiguity in your employees work by making sure that you provide as much detail as possible and can even bring in guest speakers such as a stakeholder or human resources professional to fill in any gaps and be available to answer questions.
- Identify when ambiguity is coming from low self-confidence. This is important to notice personally and with members of your team. If someone on your team has over a decade of experience with the company but still isn’t speaking up in meetings or feels the need to add multiple qualifiers to every statement, let them know that you value their opinion and trust them. If someone doesn’t feel trusted or secure in their role they may not feel comfortable sharing their experience with you or the team.
- Roleplay the worst case scenario. These kinds of exercises help people think on their feet and get used to making decisions with the information that is available. By practicing for the worst case it also provides a degree of comfort if the worst case does come true because there is a sense of being prepared.
I hope that these quick tips give you some practical information that you can implement in your workplace immediately. This is a valuable skill for you to learn to embrace personally and to lead through on your team. Change in business is constant, and ambiguity tends to go side by side with change wherever it goes. Improving your tolerance for ambiguity will give you a greater sense of peace and less anxiety in your work and is also a valuable skill to have in your personal life as well. I would love to hear from you on this topic. Please share with me any instances where you experienced or managed ambiguity in the workplace or times that you succeeded in an ambiguous environment.