5 Tips to Overcome Ambiguity at Work

🕑 4 minutes read | Feb 08 2022 | By Becky Gendron

Change is inevitable. Without it, we would all become stagnant. In order to grow, professionally and personally, we must have a growth mindset, be willing to accept ambiguity, and embrace change. Ambiguous situations cause discomfort because of the unknown or uncertain outcome. However, the difference between success and failure lies in your ability to deal with uncertainty.

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. We describe those with a strong ability to deal with ambiguity as adaptable or flexible.

We see ambiguity in the workplace in a variety of ways, including:

  • Being asked to do something that is not in your job description or that requires a skill that is new to you
  • Relying on someone else to complete a task before you can proceed with your work
  • Trying something new without knowing it will be successful
  • Not having all the details or instructions that you would prefer
  • Not getting the results you are accustomed to

These scenarios can cause stress and anxiety. This is a natural reaction to uncertainty, but it can be overcome.

Here are five tips to become more flexible and adaptable in your career and better at dealing with ambiguity.

5 tips to deal with ambiguity in the workplace

1. 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 upfront. 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.

2. Confidently Take Risks

Ambiguous situations have an element of uncertainty and you must be confident in your ability to make a decision and move forward. When you are confident, you prevent yourself from being crippled by the inability to make a decision at all. 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. For some added support, discuss your choices and decisions with your manager. Tell them how you would deal with a given situation and ask if they agree or disagree. Over time, your confidence in these decisions will grow without intervention from your manager.

3. Plan for Different Scenarios

It’s impossible to plan for every fork in the road, but we can plan for some of them. Start by identifying points of uncertainty and list a few of the most probable decisions that will need to be made and how they could affect the next steps.

Oftentimes, the process of identifying these moments and demonstrating that you can think through the web of decisions and outcomes can be enough to be confident in your ability to navigate the unknown. Focus on getting through the first layer of ambiguity and know that you can deal with the next when it comes.

4. Communicate

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 the details or expectations, never be afraid to ask questions. If you have concerns about what is expected from you, communicate this with your manager.

On the other hand, if you are a leader giving an employee a task, try to provide as much detail as possible. Even if you do not have all the details, do your best to clarify your expectations. A simple conversation can be extremely beneficial in dealing with an ambiguous task or situation.

5. Embrace Change

In our increasingly fast-paced environment, you must have the ability to embrace change with a growth mindset. Change can often bring stress to the workplace and comes with unanswered questions and expectations. However, 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. In order to advance and succeed, you have to become comfortable with the discomfort of change.

Ambiguity is uncomfortable for everyone but it can be achieved. Using these tips to prevent paralysis will help you relieve the stress and anxiety that comes with uncertainty. Overcoming ambiguity can lead to mastery of a new skill, elevating your personal brand within the organization, or sharpening your planning and strategy skills. With time and practice, change will feel exciting and rewarding.

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