Learning and Conquering Ambiguity in the Workplace

Managing Ambiguity within Procurement


Dealing with Ambiguity in the workplace can be a nightmare. No directions, just a final goal with the sentiment “go figure it out” or “just get it done.”

When you’re starting in a new company or position, or almost any other time – this can be a big hurdle to overcome. That’s why I thought I’d share my struggles, and how I overcame them to turn a weakness into a strength.

Why Leaving The Familiar And Embracing Ambiguity Is Good For Your Creativity – Forbes Article Link

Ambiguity-less Jobs


But let’s rewind the tape a bit here. My first job was working in a QC lab. If you didn’t follow step by step instructions, the results were useless. (There’s a good reason they call it quality control).

And it also means if we messed up, the drugs we were testing could be bad and literally kill people. So if you strayed from the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) you were in deep doo-doo.

Then I had a position in FP&A. Again with accounting rules and regulations, you better follow SOPs without fail. And when you are reporting your numbers, those puppies better tie out to the penny. If not, get ready to get chewed out.

So to say I struggled with ambiguity when I moved into Strategic Sourcing was an understatement. It literally would give my brain an aneurysm and I’d look at my old boss like a deer in the headlights. So I have a plan and you just want me to go do it? What are the steps, how does this work?!

He also wanted me to give an estimate in millions and said it was close enough.  ‘Are you kidding me?!’ is what I wanted to say. How could you not tie out to the penny for spend?

I had no idea what to do. I had positions that were so prescriptive in the past, straying from them would be grounds for termination. And now, I was just being asked to figure it out.

Embracing Ambiguity


Learning to embrace the unknown, is no easy task. On the best days, it can be just outright frustrating, anxiety-inducing, and stressful. Just the thought alone can send people running from jobs, bosses, or situations.

That’s why learning to conquer and embrace ambiguity is key.

That said, it’s definitely a learned trait. But what I personally find useful, is to view it as an adventure, versus a struggle. Your mindset about the ambiguity can help change it all.

And try to find the fun in it all. Consider yourself an FBI detective looking for clues to solve the case. Meet with other managers and pick their brains, find colleagues who have tackled similar issues and problems.

There are tons of platforms (Slack, LinkedIn, Procurious), where you can ask questions and have experts help you (without feeling stupid). So use these to your advantage.

Just knowing the higher you make it in the corporate world, the more ambiguity you are going to encounter should be motivation enough. So if you aren’t comfortable with it now, you should plan on making it a strength. It’s a competency that has quickly moved up the Executive’s list when hiring.

So no matter what your job or position is, if you can find a way to accept that it’s part of your job, you’re halfway home. Trying to fight a losing battle, will only cause more angst and pain along the way.

How to Deal with Ambiguity (from the Pros)


Find more detail here: HBR Link

Take Pragmatic Action

Get back to basics. Deliver value.

Operate in sprints: Embrace short-term strategies.

Cultivate Emotional Steadiness

Be proactive. Learn more

Acknowledge and navigate emotions

Keep team communication open.

Tap into Others’ Expertise

Imagine your most respected leader’s approach

Engage other managers.

Embrace the wisdom of thought leaders.

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