Imagine your world, nation, community, organization is experiencing crisis. Or 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, leaders and coaches!) are unsure of whether they will retain their position. How to successfully communicate while uncertain?

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 you directly, successfully communicate while uncertain and immersed in ambiguity? I invite you to apply these six steps drawn from my leadership and team coaching experience the past 20+ years, in 40+ countries:

  1. Before taking any action, pause and take a deep breath! (center) This simple step will literally move the blood flow from the fear flooded emotion center of your brain (the amygdala) to the part of your brain (the neocortex) from which you can think and make decisions more clearly. Go to my website for the six minute Centering for Effectiveness video which walks you through this.
  2. Think about where you are clear and unclear, now that your brain is cleared.
  3. 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. We live in a VUCCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Culturally Complex, Ambiguous). Sometimes situations are ambiguous for a period of time. I invite you to remember: Out of chaos can come creativity, innovation. This will not last forever, and good can come from it. Remember your and your system’s strengths.
  4. 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-I can help, as author of Breaking Free from Bias.
  5. Explore and then commit to what it is you want to do as a system given the situation.
  6. Clarify expectations, telling others (within the system and beyond) what you need, making requests.

You just learned how to successfully communicate while uncertain, congratulations! 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). 

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, HR, Talent managers, internal coaches-Apply for a strategy session to explore how we can partner (with me as your coach) with you and your team to thrive in our VUCCA world.

To our success-we are in this together!

Marilyn O’Hearne, MA, MCC

Culturally Intelligent Executive, Leadership, Team and Mentor Coaching; Supervision: Unlocking Potential so all can live in Prosperity & Peace

First published as a blog July 3, 2015 and updated; this has been my most popular LinkedIn post and frequently shared with executive, leadership coaching clients