The Essential Skill for Career Development – Dealing with Ambiguity

Career Development Change Blog

Change is inevitable. Without it, we would all become stagnant. To stay at the forefront of the business world you must be able to adapt to change and deal with ambiguity. Ambiguous situations often come with a lot of question marks and unknown territory. It is natural to feel stress when presented with these situations. However, the difference between success and failure lies in your ability to deal with ambiguity.

By definition, someone who is able to deal with ambiguity “can effectively cope with change, shift gears comfortably, decide and act without having the total picture, and handle risk and uncertainty.”  Those with a strong ability to deal with ambiguity are often described as adaptable, flexible, and comfortable with uncertainty.[i]

Are you a person who likes to have all the details and prefers that a situation is black and white with no gray area? When presented with a new situation, do you need to have all of the intricate details? Does change cause you to feel stressed or anxious? If so, here are some ways to help you to become better at dealing with ambiguity.

Learn to Act without Knowing All of The Details

Having the ability to take action without having each and every detail is a key component in dealing with ambiguity. When presented with a situation or problem to solve, it is rare that you will be given all of the details up front. It is crucial to avoid becoming paralyzed by the lack of detail or information. You could potentially be waiting for a piece of information that may never come. It is certain that somewhere along the way you will make mistakes. For this reason, it is important that you are able to make a confident decision without the whole picture.

Be Confident and Take Risks

Ambiguous situations often have an element of uncertainty and you must be confident in your ability to make a decision and move forward. When you are confident in your ability to make good choices, you prevent yourself from being crippled by the inability to make a decision at all. Somewhere along the line, you will make a mistake and it is important to understand that mistakes are part of learning. Although new situations and change can be intimidating, it is essential that you are able to push past the fear and understand that taking risks is necessary for growth.

Plan for the Future, but Remain in The Present

Dealing with ambiguity involves being aware of your internal self, and also being aware of what is going on around you. If you are in a state of panic about what the future of a situation may hold, you are incapable of being truly present. While it is beneficial to have guidelines for the future, it is crucial that you are flexible enough to adapt if you are thrown a curveball.


Communication is a fundamental part of effectively dealing with ambiguity. Have you ever heard of an employee being penalized for asking too many questions? Most likely, the answer is no.  If your boss or coworker hands you a task without providing all of the details or expectations, never be afraid to ask questions. If you have concerns about what is expected from you, communicate this with your boss.

On the other hand, if you are a boss giving an employee a task, try and provide as much detail as possible. Even if you do not have all of the details, do your best to provide clarity about what you are expecting from your employee. A simple conversation can be extremely beneficial in dealing with an ambiguous task or situation.

Embrace Change

In our increasingly fast-paced environment, you must have the ability to embrace change. Change is another element that can often bring stress to the workplace for many people. Change comes with unanswered questions and, often, unknown expectations. However, studies show that change can have a positive impact on an organization and its employees. Change encourages innovation, opens new doors, helps your business stay current, and can even boost employee morale.[ii] In order to advance and succeed you have to become comfortable with the discomfort of change.

Having a strong understanding of how to deal with ambiguity truly is the new business imperative and it’s time that we all hop on board.