Managing Ambiguity - dealing successfully with uncertain situations
Managing ambiguity or uncertainty is a key life skill...
Our ability to deal effectively with uncertain situations or “managing ambiguity” is a life skill that is gaining recognition, mostly stemming from Daniel Goleman’s work on Emotional Intelligence. Let’s take a look at what managing ambiguity is all about.
Go Ask A Fortune-Teller
Every second of every day, someone, somewhere will be moving house, switching careers, or dealing with some other significant life change. Even fortune-tellers can’t predict how things are going to turn out, so you have to get comfortable with not knowing precisely what is going to happen. That’s managing ambiguity!
Handle challenges better by keeping your thinking crystal-clear
The problem is when we get anxious our ability to think clearly gets worse. So the key is to manage anxiety levels and have loads of spare mental capacity to deal with the unexpected.
Take a moment to consider this relationship;
ANXIETY = IMPORTANCE x UNCERTAINTY
If something is very important to us, we will wish dearly for success
and have some emotional attachment to the outcome of the challenge.
Here’s a table to better explain the relationship between
Anxiety, Importance and Uncertainty, or Ambiguity.
A nasty pair
Assessing the challenge
How important is it?
What’s the outcome?
A situation is uncertain when there are a multitude of outcomes, not all of them desirable. Build up your tolerance for ambiguity by remembering that even in the toughest situation, there are always two sound principles you can rely on.
Principle 1 – you can always control your response to a situation. Your reaction is your choice.
Principle 2 – recognising what you can and can’t control will increase the likelihood of a successful outcome and lower your anxiety.
Think clearly about each of the possible outcomes? List all of them, even the scary ones that only crop up in the dead of the night. So you are made redundant – there is plenty you can do to make the most of that situation. Maybe the cheque will fund that teaching qualification you’ve always dreamt of?
Sort it out or fugeddaboudit
Take each outcome in turn and figure out how likely it is to happen, and what you can actively do to influence it. When you’re done, you’ll have a comprehensive action plan, bettering your chance of success. So even if the worst thing does happen, you’ve already done something to lessen the impact and know what you can do next.
And for all the things you can’t control or influence, forget them. Write them down and then scrunch up the paper and throw it away. At some point you have to let go.
Managing ambiguity can be learned and improved with practice. Be more successful and rise to the challenge by;
• Understanding the relationship between anxiety, importance and uncertainty.
• Managing your anxiety and increasing your spare capacity by learning relaxation techniques.
• Deepening your understanding by using the clear thinking approach with a colleague, partner or friend.
Managed well, uncertainty can be exciting rather than frightening. Keep your thinking clear and ambiguity can be your friend.
By Lyndsay Swinton
Citation Information: Swinton, Lyndsay. "Managing Ambiguity - dealing successfully with uncertain situations." Mftrou.com. 13 September 2005. < http://www.mftrou.com/managing-ambiguity.html >.
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