We celebrate freedom in the US. Yet in our VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) World, we are not free of ambiguity. We crave certainty, clarity, directness (some personalities and cultures more than others). Stepping into leadership, as a leader or a coach, requires increasing tolerance for and skills with dealing successfully with ambiguity (Ambiguity= murky, foggy, unclear). How do you successfully communicate while uncertain?
Imagine your organization is in the process of merging with another organization. Or is downsizing. Or the new CEO has announced an upcoming reorganization. Productivity and profitability need to stay in place, while expectations are in flux and employees (maybe even you!) are unsure of whether they will retain their position.
Anxiety runs high (maybe even yours!) It is literally hard to think clearly and make good decisions because when we are living in fear, our amygdala (part of our brain) has been “hijacked”. Our bodies get the message it is time for fight or flight and we feel our heart racing, our stomach or shoulders clenched, sweat forming on our brow.
Others are looking to us-the leader, coach, facilitator, trainer for clear answers, and we do not have them!
What to do?
How do we directly, successfully communicate while uncertain and immersed in ambiguity?
- Before taking any action, pause and take a deep breath! (center) This simple step will literally move the blood flow from the fear center of your brain (the amygdala) to the parts of your brain from which you can think and make decisions more clearly. My website has a brief Centering for Effectiveness video which will walk you through this.
- Think about where you are clear and unclear.
- With your system (i.e. team, organization, client/coach partnership) acknowledge the ambiguity, what is unclear. You may experience some resistance, believing you (the leader, the expert, the coach) should be clear about all things, all the time! That is not our current reality. Sometimes situations are ambiguous for a period of time. I invite you to remember: Out of chaos can come innovation. This will not last forever, and good can come from it. Remember your and your system’s strengths.
- Ask yourself and others: “What is clear? What is unclear? What do we need? What requests are missing?” One of my favorite quotes is: “When you come to the edge of all the light you have known and are about to step into the darkness, FAITH is knowing one of two things will happen…There will be something to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.” (And as a coach, I am your partner as you step into the unknown.) This step will move the conversation from rumors, assumptions and fear to filling those ambiguous gaps with real information. Unconscious bias can sometimes be at the root of assumptions, this is a good time to bring them into awareness and manage them.
- Explore and then commit to what it is you want to do as a system given the situation.
- Clarify expectations, telling others (within the system and beyond) what you need, making requests.
You just learned how to successfully communicate while uncertain, congratulations!
The “fog” of ambiguity both makes us uncomfortable and opens the door for dramatic shifts, innovation and new ways of thinking that lead to giant steps forward for greater impact.
Leaders-Apply for a strategy session to explore partnering (as your coach) with you and your team to thrive in our VUCA world.
Coaches, Reserve your place now (with MOH code) for the next “How to Be a Direct Communicator without Crossing the Line (Into Being Too Directive)” 7 week virtual training (ICF, BCC CCEs). Find out more and receive your “Directometer” here: https://marilynoh.com/programs/directly-communicate-without-crossing-the-line/
To our success-we are in this together!
Culturally Intelligent Executive, Leadership, Team and Mentor Coaching; Supervision