Once upon a time, exceptions used to be rare if non-existent; I before E, except after C. Today, however, we find more and more often that exceptions are the rule; I before E, except after C, or in words such as species, science, sufficient, seize, weird, vein, their, foreign, feisty, heist, and so on.
The more exceptions we have, the larger the gray area; that place of ambiguity, where answers to questions could go one way or the other.
Some of us thrive in this vast space of uncertainty. But for those of us who prefer to live in the explicit world of the known, ambiguity in general, but especially during change, is like our Voldemort.
Living with ambiguity in our lives can be manageable, when most of our world is fairly consistent and certain. But when the snow globe of change is shaken, all bets on certainty are off, especially when answers are vague, direction is lacking, and answers to our questions range from, “I don’t know” to “it depends.”
"Just tell me what to do!”
When we are deeply comforted by a sense of knowing, ambiguity can be a very real and disruptive experience. According to Dr. David Rock, “a sense of uncertainty about the future generates a strong threat or ‘alert’ response in your limbic system. Your brain detects something is wrong, and your ability to focus on other issues diminishes.”
What do we do when in the midst of high ambiguity? We seek answers. And if we can’t find them, we push for them. We may even become obsessed by getting to the bottom of what, in actuality, may be a bottomless pit of the unknown, where no answers yet exist.
A few simple tools.
Those of us who are more comfortable within uncertainty realize that sometimes the best thing to do is to let things unfold. To focus on other things, and allow whatever answers we seek to emerge on their own. I’m not saying this is easy, especially when feeling a high need for answers, yet we use redirection all the time with our children, and there’s a reason. It works.
But while letting go can be a healthy way to await answers, what if they are unlikely to come, because of vague policies or having to rely on people who are less concerned or committed to finding clarity than we are?
The way I see it, ambiguity is really an opportunity. It is a way to exercise our intuitive muscle and guess, and it is also an opportunity to step-up and lead through choice.
Guessing, the new knowing.
The problem with ambiguous situations is that there may be multiple options for the same situation or question, all of which might depend on information we might not yet have. Other times, it may be that there has yet to be any clear direction decided upon, because of factors unknown to us.
Either way, if it really feels as though action needs to be taken, or we are pressed to take action when there is no clear direction, then it’s time to take our best guess.
But guessing doesn’t need to be synonymous with tossing a coin. We all have an intuitive side, even if we choose not to acknowledge it. The article, “Trust Your Gut When Making Decisions” attests to this.
Wondering how to access your intuition? For some taking a shower or a long walk works, for others, meditation or listening to wordless music does the trick. But doing this with a clear mind, without filling it with attempts to control the outcome, all while remembering to breathe is what usually does the trick.
Leading through choice.
When involved in a change that relies on others to make decisions, ambiguity can be an amazingly freeing space, when we allow ourselves to let go of our need to stay within the strict boundaries of rules.
This is not to suggest breaking the rules, laws or anything like that, but where no rules exist, there are opportunities to make our own.
If we’ve hit a dead-end in finding a clear answer or direction, rather than waiting, deciding to take action may be exactly what is needed to get unstuck, and sharing your choice with others might help them to move forward too.
There are risks to the guessing and leading approaches, however. When choosing to take action when things aren’t clear, we risk an uncertain outcome, and unknown reactions by anyone else effected by our choices.
The benefit is that making a choice to lead, shifts the uncertainty from front and center to behind us. The saying, “it is better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission” comes to mind here.
We each must choose in which situations this saying best applies, and when it doesn’t. Unfortunately for the certainty-lovers out there, there is no one clear answer. But if you choose to take action, do so with conviction, remembering that by shifting the circumstances to where we have a choice puts us in the decision-making seat. A much better place to be during times of change.
Stay tuned tomorrow where fear of the unknown, a close relative to ambiguity, and how to work through it is discussed.
About the Author
Megan Rounds, Ed.D. is owner and principle perculator of perculcha, llc.
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