The ambiguity trap

Cropped portrait of a young businessman feeling overwhelmed by his colleagues in the office

In these uncertain times feeling comfortable with ongoing change is essential.

In her incredible memoir ‘Becoming’, Michelle Obama talks about the ability to ‘swerve’. She tells a charming story of a date with a pre-Obama beau, in which the young man in question swerved his car to the side of the road to take the opportunity to run through a meadow of flowers. It didn’t matter to him that this might make him look a bit weird, or make them late for whatever they had planned to do. It was an opportunity he could not give up. And for Michelle Obama, that memory has stayed with her as a reminder of how important it is to be positively adaptable to change – a lesson that over the last 18 months has become more essential for everyone globally.  

How to embrace ambiguity

Some people have a natural disposition that sets them up to embrace ‘the swerve’. Others prefer certainty. Thankfully, being comfortable with ambiguity is a skill you can learn and share with your team 

Take action without knowing all the details

Ambiguity can cause analysis paralysis, but sometimes not knowing all the details has hidden benefits. Would you have jumped off that top diving board as a kid if you’d known exactly how many metres high it was? But it was still fun, right? You need to accept that at some point, mistakes are inevitable regardless of how much information you have. Get your team together to practice making decisions without a full analysis at hand. Start small, act collectively and take group responsibility. Celebrate success and embrace learning opportunities.   

Stay anchored in the now

When we are constantly worrying about the future it is hard to know what is best to do next. All you can do is make the best decision possible with the information available to you at the time. Reject the concept of regret and embrace the moment. Don’t allow yourself to panic, anchor yourself in the details of the present and make a decision relevant to now. Whataboutism doesn’t help anyone. This is a strategy you need to model to your team. 

Practice saying I Don’t Know, yet

Nobody said you need to have all the answers. Having the confidence to admit there is more work to be done, something else you need to find out or another person who needs consulting is key to great leadership. Saying I Don’t Know is a powerful management tool because it allows the creativity of your team to become the focus. Deferring to them builds confidence, and in turn helps them seek support when they are unsure, promoting future success.

Why not try the IMNZ Think On Your Feet programme to build the communication skills your team needs to cope with ambiguity.

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