Learning to Thrive in Ambiguity

I’d be thrilled to know if you find this post valuable, but in full disclosure, for me, writing this was my therapy.

This isn’t an authorized list. There hasn’t been any research backing it up. It’s just a list of things that I’m doing now because ambiguity is part of life and I have chosen not to be a victim of circumstance.

  1. Be honest with yourself. You need to assess the situation. What’s going on? Are things good or bad? How is morale? Is leaving an option? Why or why not? Should you leave? This line of questions gets crazy and is very specific to each of us individually. You need to be honest about how things are really going. It won’t help you, your team, or the organization to pretend that things aren’t a bit wonky. This doesn’t give you license to speak negatively or to start being a naysayer. To put it plainly, it’s the person that knows they are sick that goes to the doctor.
  2. Reset your expectations. Throughout my life my expectations have had a major impact on my experiences. If I plan on having steak for dinner and end up with salad, I’m disappointed. If I go on vacation to the beach and it rains the whole time, it’s quite likely that vacation will be ruined. Often, my expectations set me up for failure because I feel like circumstances should turn out differently. Nothing was promised to me. I understand that nothing is owed to me but that doesn’t stop me from setting expectations for how things should be. In times of ambiguity, it’s not uncommon to look for stability. Looking for stability and even desiring it is not bad, but don’t start a narrative in your head based on a set of bad expectations.
  3. Focus on the tasks at hand. It’s quite likely in your ambiguity that there’s a lot of work to do. Don’t sit around waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Get to work. I have a list of things that need to be done, but it’s never the right time because there’s usually something more pressing. Maybe now is the time to work on some of those tasks.
  4. Don’t wait for permission look for opportunity. You don’t need permission to be an encouragement. You don’t need permission to pick up trash from the floor. You don’t need permission to engage. It takes a decision on your part to step up. Open your eyes. Look for opportunity and make a difference.
  5. Look to the past. There are peaks and valleys in life. By looking to the past, you gain perspective. These times of ambiguity that feel like an eternity don’t last forever. You got through before, you’ll get through again. If you need help getting that perspective, talk to a friend or a mentor or a neighbor.

Words Are Hard

Sometimes when I talk to someone I get tripped up on my words. I know what I want to say. In my head it’s so clear. But the words that come out are jumbled and disorganized.

What’s worse is that, in my head, I can see the newspaper clippings and the social media fanfare proclaiming what a good communicator I am. Tweets and posts about how I said something noteworthy and how my precise communication saved the day.

What happens though, is that I think I’ve made a point only to find out that the person I’m talking to still has no idea what I’ve been trying to say. This phenomenon gets compounded when I talk with someone who doesn’t have a shared background or culture.

Communicating for understanding is difficult and takes effort. There is responsibility on both sides. The communicator needs to use words and examples that the receiver will grasp, and the receiver needs to be honest about their level of understanding and ask questions.

It’s much easier for me to speak into the ether, paying no mind to whether the person I’m communicating with has understood. This is especially true in positions of power or authority. It’s not my job to ensure the person that I’m talking to really understands.

Or is it my job?

What it comes down to is that real communication isn’t easy, and words are hard.

If I have an expectation for how something will turn out, I have found that I need to be explicit about assumptions. It’s not enough to just use words. Words are hard. I need to communicate and that takes a lot more effort.