Dealing with Ambiguity – People Who Have Difficulty in Dealing with Ambiguity

In most work environments, one of the major capabilities managers and employees are expected to have is dealing with ambiguity. It may be defined as to effectively cope with change, to shift gears comfortably and to be able to act and decide without having the whole picture. It means to be able to handle risks and uncertainty in a comfortable way. It’s when we are stressed or faced with threats, that our resistance to ambiguity grows strongest. Change is the only certainty in this world today and the pace of change is ever increasing.

We all know that change isn’t easy and everyday we have to deal with a great amount of uncertainty. Ambiguity creates complications and stress and decision making becomes difficult. However, to succeed in business, one needs to be good at dealing with ambiguity.

Almost everyone dislikes the feeling of not knowing the answer to an important question about what is going to happen in the future. There are several people who have difficulty in dealing with ambiguity. They are –

  • Not comfortable with change or uncertainty.
  • May not do well on obscure problems with no clear solution or outcome.
  • May like to have more data than others.
  • Prefers things tacked down and sure.
  • Less efficient and productive under ambiguity.
  • Too quick to close.
  • May have an urgency to finish everything.
  • May like to do things in the same way again and again.

The difference between success and failure lies in one’s ability to deal with ambiguity. The ability to take action without having much details is a major component in dealing with ambiguity. Those who are skilled in dealing with ambiguity –

  • Can effectively cope with change.
  • Can shift gears comfortably.
  • Can make decisions and act without having the whole information.
  • Aren’t upset when things are up in the air.
  • Don’t need to complete things before moving further.
  • Can comfortably handle risk and uncertainty.

There are some people who are over skilled in dealing with ambiguity. They –

  • May move to conclusions without enough data.
  • May address shortcomings by filling things that aren’t there.
  • May irritate others by not being precise.
  • May undervalue orderly problem solving.
  • May reject precedent and history.
  • May approach towards the new and risky at the expense of proven solutions.
  • May over-complicate things.

Causes Of Ambiguity –

Ambiguity comes in several forms in the workplace One of the biggest causes of increasing ambiguity is the increasing diversity of today’s workforce Today, there is increasing competition among organizations as they expand their markets around the globe. Consequently, organizations must become more effective and efficient in their operations than ever before. They cannot weaken in the often highly reactive and chaotic start-up stage of development. Instead, they must more quickly evolve through the growth stage with its strong focus on internal development and then onto the mature stage where it can be much more competitive. As a result, today’s leaders and managers are faced with choosing from among different styles of leadership and strategies for growth. They are dealing with driving forces that are causing change.

The problem arises from a lack of direction and distinct roles. The problem can result from the business itself or from specific managers who fail to implement the direction and roles associated with their job. When ambiguity arises in a business, it becomes a huge problem. When employees are dealing with ambiguity, they are often working in a job with an uncertain future and the daily work is approached with a level of indifference. Since the employee has no job security and there is lack of opportunity and reward, he has no desire to produce results. This means that doing the minimum delivers the same reward as producing maximum output. No motivator exists to perform beyond the minimum requirement.

Most of the problems of managers are ambiguous. It’s neither clear what the problem is nor what the solution is. The higher you go, the more ambiguous things get. Most people with a brain, given unlimited time and all of the information, could make accurate and good decisions. Most people who have an approach to how this particular problem has been solved many times before, could repeat the correct decision. The real rewards go to those who can easily make more good decisions than bad with little information in less time, with few or no clue on how it was solved before.

Some Remedies –

Ambiguity is a complex problem in the workplace. In a few instances, ambiguity can play a positive role but in many instances, the lack of clarity and direction hinders production and positive outcomes. Taking a prompt approach to ambiguity improves morale and overall direction.

  • Incrementalism –
    • The essence of comfortably dealing with ambiguity is the tolerance of mistakes, and absorbing the possible fieriness and criticism that follow. Acting on an ill-defined problem with no precedents to follow, means a matter of chance with as informed a decision as you can make at the time. People who are good at this are incrementlists. They make smaller decisions and get instant feedback. They collect more data and
    • move a little further, until the bigger problem is under control. They don’t try to get it right the first time. Studies show that the second or third try is when we really understand the problems. They also know that the more uncertain the situation is, the more likely it is they will make mistakes in the beginning. So you need to work again and again. Start small so you can recover more quickly. Do little somethings as soon as you can and get used to heat.
  • Perfectionist –
    • Most people prefer or want to be absolutely sure. Most people cannot let go of perfectionism as they see it as a positive trait for themselves. Collect more information than others to improve your confidence in making a correct decision and thus avoiding risk and judgement. Try to decrease your need for data and your need to be right all the time slightly every week until you reach a more reasonable balance between thinking it through and taking action. Try to make some small decisions on little or no data. Anyone with a brain and all the data can make good decisions. The real test is who can act the soonest with a reasonable amount, but not all of the data. Trust your intuition and let your brain do the calculations.
  • Being Stuck With What You Know –
    • Most people feel best when they know everything that’s going on around them and are in control. Few are motivated by uncertainty and chaos. But many are challenged by it. They enjoy solving problems no one has solved before. They enjoy penetrating where no one has been before. You need to become comfortable being a leader. Explore new things. Go for vacation at places without doing a lot of research. Go to ethnic festivals you have little knowledge about.
  • Disorganized –
    • During uncertainty, you need to set priorities. Focus on a critical few and don’t get diverted by details. Get better organized and disciplined. There are certain practices for getting work done effectively. If you are unable to design work for yourself in a disciplined manner and late in taking action, read books or go for a training on efficient and effective work design.
  • Problem Diagnosis –
  • If you are uncertain, it really helps to deal with the problem as soon as possible. Figure out what causes it and how you can organize them. This increases the chance of a better solution because you can see more connections. It is evident from research that thorough problem definition with appropriate questions to answer lead to better decisions. Focusing on solutions or information first often slows things down since we do not organize our thinking. Learn to ask more questions.
  • Develop a Philosophical Stance Toward Failure/Criticism –
    • Most innovations and proposals fail, most change efforts fail, anything worth doing takes repeated effort. To increase learning from your mistakes, design feedback loops as soon as possible. The quicker and the more frequent the cycles, the more opportunities to learn. If we do one smaller thing a day for three days instead of one bigger thing in three, we triple our learning opportunities. There will be many mistakes and failures; after all, since you’re not sure, it’s very likely no one else knows what to do either. They just have a right to comment on your errors. The best approach when confronted with a mistake is to find out what you can learn from it.
  • Stress –
    • Dealing with ambiguity can be stressful. We lose our grip. We are not at our best when we are anxious, frustrated, upset or when we lose our calmness. At that moment, try to think what brings out your emotional response, what makes you anxious. When you don’t know what to do and you don’t want to make a mistake, you are afraid of the unknown consequences and don’t have the confidence to act either, When you get emotional, drop the problem for awhile. Go do something else. You can solve it later when you are under better control and then your brain work on it.
  • Change Is Letting Go –
    • The second gets you to a new place so if you hang on to the first one, afraid you will fall, you will always return to the same old place safe but with nothing new or different. Change is letting go. Stay informed about business changes and ask what it means for your work. Visualize a different and better outcome. Discuss about it with those who have successfully pulled off changes and invite ideas. Doing this will make you more Comfortable in dealing with change.
  • Finishing –
    • Do you prefer to finish what you have started? Do you have a high need to complete tasks? Wrap them up in nice clean packages? Working well with ambiguity and under uncertainty means moving from incomplete task to completing it. Some may be left completely and others may never be completed. They’ll probably never be completely done and you’ll constantly have to edit your actions and decisions. Change your internal reward process toward feeling good about fixing mistakes and moving things forward incrementally, more than finishing any given project.

Dealing with ambiguity is a key skill required under business management competency. Making good decisions with abundant information and time is common, however, your competency in business management is staged when you are able to make more good decisions than bad with limited information and time in hand. This gets more essential as a key competency skill to have as you go higher the career ladder because the higher the rank you are in, you would probably be in more situations where you would have to rely on information given to you by others.