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Dealing with Ambiguity: 4 Actions that Demonstrate Proficiency

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Sam Kalk  •  Published on Dec 1, 2020  •  5 min read

Sometimes we act with the intention of minimizing risk when we don’t have all the information, or take on projects when we have other important things in the works. Although these actions add to the level of ambiguity in our lives, certain behaviors can help people overcome the negative feelings associated with not knowing all the answers or feeling spread thin. 


Dealing with ambiguity is part of a set of functional and behavioral competencies that lead to professional success across a multitude of disciplines. 


A person that deals with ambiguity can cope with change, shift gears comfortably, decide and act without having the total picture, and comfortably handle risk and uncertainty. 

Ambiguity Implies Inherent Risk

Being comfortable with ambiguity does not mean seeking it out, but instead means flourishing under the conditions that it creates. It is important to note that pitfalls exist when one becomes overly comfortable with ambiguity in the workplace. 


Oftentimes teams that overdo dealing with ambiguity see problems that wouldn’t have arisen otherwise by moving to conclusions without enough data, not getting specific enough, undervaluing orderly problem solving and overcomplicating things, erring toward the new and risky at the expense of proven solutions and rejecting precedent and history.

Ask 3 Questions to Avoid Overdoing Ambiguity

To avoid these situations, managers and their teams should ask themselves: 

  • Am I taking enough time to make decisions with a realistic volume of data?
  • Am I using my strengths to my advantage, or trying to go a different route?
  • Have I looked at all sides of the problem?

After asking these questions, it’s important to remember that people who deal with ambiguity well possess a number of skills relating to change management. Incrementalism, overcoming the need for perfection, exploring new ideas, setting tight priorities, defining and visualizing the problem, and learning from mistakes are all behaviors that when practiced lead to dealing with ambiguity better and overall healthier work products. 

It's important to remember that people who deal with ambiguity well possess a number of skills relating to change management.

By investing in these skills and behaviors, we invest in our ability to deal with ambiguity and lean into the real world, where we rarely have all the answers and often disagree. 

4 Actions that Demonstrate Proficiency

People who demonstrate they can deal with ambiguity at a high level consistently engage in 4 actions: 

  1. Prioritize work effectively to completion.
  2. Direct team and self through change by anticipating future impacts
  3. Use creativity and empathy in handling ambiguous situations to help others cope more effectively.
  4. Lean into situations involving risk and uncertainty, as they can often lead to higher rewards.

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