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Enduring Uncertainty at Work

Estimated reading time ~ 3 min
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One thing that is true about life is that it always changes and a lot of things are out of our control. The “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, aka the era of technological advances, has made the job market more complex, skilled, and competitive. In addition, employers are asking candidates to become more adaptable and ready for ambiguous challenges.

For those of us who like structure, clarity, or control, we, oftentimes to our own demise, utilize our energy to change or avoid these uncertain circumstances. Trust me, I can testify that it’s better to build our tolerance than to rebel against it. After being furloughed at the peak of the pandemic, moving three times in two years, and supporting elderly family members, I started a personal journey to understand how I could handle unplanned events with more grace and a stronger mental fortitude. This quest led me to a powerful research report posted by the Queensland University of Technology and Change 2020, an organizational change, people, and culture consultancy company. They interviewed 300+ individuals to find the main factors and habits of mind that determines a person’s tolerance of ambiguity or TOA. The three main factors of TOA they discovered were:

  • Comfort with ambiguity: indicates the ease people have with ambiguous situations at work.
  • A desire for challenging work: the level in which a person desires to solve complex problems or take risks at work.
  • Coping with uncertainty: which tools or mechanisms a person will use to cope with or minimize ambiguity in the workplace.

In addition, they developed 8 Habits of Mind that can develop a person’s TOA. Their research completely transformed my mindset and behavior toward ambiguous events in my life. From their list of Habits of Mind, here are the three takeaways I consistently use and some reflection questions to help you increase your TOA.

Master Mindfulness to Cope with Uncertainty

How do you regulate your emotions, handle stress, or become more present? As a person with ADHD and anxiety, it has always been very hard for me to practice mindfulness, which led to me to react vs respond to ambiguous situations. I have learned to “cope with uncertainty” by using breathing techniques and getting back into my yoga practice, which has helped me to slow down and better assess situations, leading to more intentional, creative, or realistic solutions. Reflect on the following:

  1. Do you tend to react or respond to ambiguous situations?
  2. When faced with ambiguous situations, how can you slow down to become more regulated and/or present?

Focus on What Matters

Focusing on what matters might look like breaking down a concept into smaller pieces or removing irrelevant information from an ambiguous situation. I always had competing priorities and new initiatives popping up at work, so I had to focus on where I could make the biggest impact by filtering out tasks that weren’t realistic or a top priority. Instead of getting overwhelmed with the complexity of my job, I am able to take on more challenging tasks. Think about the following:

  1. Are you focusing on what matters the most right now?
  • If not, what can be broken down into smaller parts or filtered out?
  1. Do you desire more challenging work?
  • If not, what is getting in the way?

Let Go and Move On

I am a notorious self-critic that struggles to let go of past mistakes and tends to overthink how to approach a challenge. On the other hand, people with high TOA see mistakes as learning opportunities and want to quickly move forward to the next challenge. When navigating through new projects, tasks, or roles, normalizing mistakes can help us become more comfortable with ambiguous situations over time. Think about the following:

  1. Do you have a hard time letting go of past mistakes or hurts?
  2. Think of a time when you viewed a mistake as a learning opportunity. How did it make you feel? What was the result?

Overall, building our tolerance for ambiguity can help us be more intentional, creative, and responsive. We can accept that uncertainty is part of life and build the confidence and comfort to handle it more gracefully. To learn more, click here for Change 2020 and Queensland University of Technology’s full report.

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