Why your Comfort with Discomfort and Desire for Challenge is Terrifying your Team

Are you one of those people who comes out of a meeting deflated when the conversation is dominated by known complex challenges and unknowns?

Do you take it in your stride, or are you oddly excited about the challenge and completely at ease with what is still unknown? 

You’ve probably been in many uncertain situations before and are confident you’ll be able to find your way through.

Unfortunately, because you feel comfortable and enjoy challenging work, you may not be completely attuned to what’s going on with your team.

Just because they don’t tell you they’re freaking out doesn’t mean that they are sleeping at night.

Those dark circles under their eyes may mean more than a new baby, a rowdy neighbour or teenagers testing the boundaries at home.

Why do I know this?

I may sometimes have been guilty of missing subtle cues about what was going on with team members’ internal dialogue. Receiving the results from my IAm (Indicator of Ambiguity) diagnostic assessment prompted some personally challenging reflections.

The ability to tolerate ambiguity is associated with various positive workplace behaviours, including better problem-solving, decision-making, creativity, and risk-taking. People with a higher tolerance for ambiguity are more effective and efficient in changing environments and experience increased job satisfaction and overall well-being.

However, when you discover the average person in a workplace only has a mild tolerance of ambiguity, you can begin to understand why someone with a clear tolerance of ambiguity, i.e. enthusiasm for challenge and chilled attitude about uncertainty, could be extremely disconcerting if they are leading a team.

There is one thing I’ve noticed with the I Am debriefs I’ve led as an accredited practitioner. Lack of awareness of the need to manage uncertainty, not just for others but also for themselves, can be a big downside for people with a clear tolerance of ambiguity.

If this is you, it’s a downside because you are missing out when you fail to use techniques that manage the lack of clarity and enable openness to uncertainty because:

  • Ambiguity and uncertainty are rich grounds for innovation and creativity.
  • You miss out on deepening your understanding of a situation and making better decisions when you fail to engage with other people’s perspectives.
  • Teams are better able to adapt quickly when they’ve had the opportunity to explore possible scenarios before they need to respond.
  • You won’t attract the best talent if they don’t feel you’re personally invested in their development.
  • You are missing out on your own opportunity to learn and develop.

It’s like watching a movie in fast forward to avoid the suspenseful parts; you might get to the end quicker, but you’ll miss the plot twists that give the story depth and excitement.

Here are some things you can start doing right now:

  • Conduct regular ‘what if’ scenarios with your team.
  • Make it a habit to ask questions that don’t have immediate answers to demystify uncertainty.
  • Involve people from different backgrounds and with different expertise early in the process before you need to decide on the next right thing. 
  • Find fun and stimulating ways of developing people’s tolerance e.g. by playing Ambiguity Apocalypse.

Still not convinced you need to make more of an effort to bring people with you.

Then take heed of this direct quote from the assessment report for someone with a very clear tolerance of ambiguity:

“In your enthusiasm to push beyond boundaries, you can overwhelm your colleagues; you may generate multiple ideas without providing context or frameworks. While your results will continue to serve you well in the workplace, it is wise to recognise that your results are at the extreme and a part of your role is to find a way to bring people forward with you and not terrify them along the way!”

If this isn’t you but sounds like someone you work with, please do share this blog with them. It may help calm the farm.

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