Understanding ambiguity

As part of our March blog series, focusing on helping people manage change and uncertainty in the workplace, Business Psychologist & Executive Coach Sara Duxbury talks about dealing with uncertainty.


Our brain doesn't like uncertainty, our brain likes us to feel safe, happy and comfortable. So when we are faced with an ambiguous situation, our brain will help us to fill in the gaps trying to help us manage the uncertainty. Unfortunately, what it fills those gaps with will be a perception not the truth of what is actually happening. So how can we help ourselves to manage ambiguous situations and avoid getting in a perception pickle?

One difficulty is that we are trying to have certainty in an uncertain world. We might worry that the plane you get on will crash or will I get enough clients this year to hit my sales target. Rather than think about this in terms of probabilities, you could think about possibility. It’s always possible that the next plane you get on might crash or that you might not hit your sales target, but if you know the airline you are flying's safety record or you know you are working hard to develop your client accounts then there is a higher probability of success, allowing you to feel more certain.

We also naturally associate ambiguity with a negative outcome e.g. I've started in a new role, I don't have a job description and my boss hasn't set me any KPIs can make you feel "I should worry about this" rather than this is one outcome out of many possible outcomes - including a positive one! Yes, the plane could crash, but “could crash” does not equal “will crash."

The good news is that we do all unconsciously accept uncertainty. You walk across the street, you get into a taxi, you eat food in restaurants, you travel, you start conversations with people. In each case, you don’t know for sure what is going to happen, but you accept the uncertainty.

So, try this the next time you find yourself in a situation that feels ambiguous: think of all the things that you are planning on doing today and ask yourself if you have absolute certainty. By noticing your comfort with this level of uncertainty, you will allow your brain to kick itself back into rational thinking and avoid a perception pitfall.

If you're interested to learn more, get in touch via email hello@cartercorson.co.uk or give us a call 01625 526979