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Addled by Ambiguity? Challenged by Change?
An Article by Stephen R. Clark

Ambiguity abounds! The chaos can be mind numbing. The seeming irreconcilable differences, endless. While ambiguity visits daily, you don’t want it to set up house. It needs to be managed, minimized, and sent packing whenever possible.

Where does it come from? Ambiguity most frequently results from change or exists in instability.

Change is a pain but necessary for progress. Change-generated ambiguity is usually temporary. It comes from unfamiliarity with the new and different: a new process, a different job, a new car, a different time zone. Time and experience will ease the yuckiness of change as ambiguity gives way to clarity.

Instability is numbing and useless. It comes from directionless shifting and incessant wavering. It is evidenced in false starts, backtracking, risk aversion, dysfunction, and a pervasive sense of insecurity. In an unstable environment, no one is empowered to do anything of value. Smoke-and-mirror behavior provides cover for irresponsibility and denies accountability. Instability may parade as change, but nothing really changes.

True change is startling, refreshing, challenging, and frightening—all at once. Just as you can’t put new wine in old wineskins, genuine change makes everything in some way new. Real change brings about real difference—a new way of seeing and new things to see. Dealing with valid change means learning new behaviors, taking risks, and growing beyond who and what you were. It requires flexibility.

Flexibility allows you to shift, brake, and steer as you encounter new situations. It means being responsive, not indecisive and frozen by ambiguity. It means being committed, not neutral. To commit past neutral requires clarity, direction, and communication. Without ongoing communication, commitment to change initiatives stalls.

To move genuine change forward, all levels of management must work hard to sustain an atmosphere of absolute trust and authenticity. Clear and consistent communication must increase. A compelling case needs to be made for the change. It must be made relevant.

Building relevance occurs through candid conversations about the reasons for change and what the new expectations are. Multiple opportunities for organizational conversations need to occur to help people own and integrate the goals, and be able to articulate their aspirations for achieving them.

Being mired in never-ending, changeless ambiguity is like idling at a stuck traffic light. Energy and resources are used without results. Prolonged ambiguity is the enemy of success. It is the fog that wrecks good intentions. It’s like gooey quicksand that will slowly sink morale and initiative. If allowed to persist, it will fall apart into instability.

Dealing with change and cutting through ambiguity can be harrowing, yet rewarding. Clear, consistent communication and "walking the talk" empowers all to properly navigate seas of ambiguity and change. Flexibility will move us forward despite not having every loose end neatly tied.

Courage in open and honest communication will help us act decisively and prudently in the midst of conflicting, divergent, and fluctuating situations. Bravely taking risks, recovering quickly from failures, and moving forward steadily will eventually bring us to the shores of resolution, clarity, and stability. And then, the trip starts all over again!

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