Learning & Development

Acknowledging Uncertainty to Encourage Prompt Action

There’s a strange phenomenon that afflicts countless people around the world, regardless of professional status, education, culture, etc., when they’re faced with uncertainty: They tend to panic, freeze, do nothing, or hesitate and avoid making tough decisions precisely at the point when prompt action is essential.

It’s human nature to fall into this trap.

Difficulty Dealing with Ambiguity

Uncertainty involves uncharted waters and unfamiliar territory. Those placed in these situations aren’t dealing with fact patterns they handle on a routine basis or even situations their colleagues have dealt with or that can be researched readily online. They don’t know what to do or what the outcomes of potential courses of action may be. It’s very easy and maybe even very likely that they will make mistakes or fail.

Nevertheless, inaction is often a worse response than flawed or misguided action. It takes courage and initiative to make that leap, however. But that’s exactly what organizations expect from their leaders.

A Best-Practice Strategy

One simple strategy that can help move leaders out of the inaction trap is to take a moment to acknowledge the uncertainty. “When an uncertain situation occurs, instead of getting paranoid or panicked, effective leaders must understand how this uncertain event has happened and that there is no other option but to acknowledge it,” says Tyler King in an article for Entrepreneur. “Rather than panicking, effective leaders should immediately start working on a plan that will help them in surviving this uncertain situation. The leaders must understand that the only way they can tackle this situation is by creating a plan, devising strategies and implementing them. They should forecast their decision and try to predict the outcomes that might occur if they make any of those decisions.”

Leaders who acknowledge uncertainty early on are better able to take some of the panicked emotion out of their thought process. They’ve acknowledged the scary part; now it’s time to fix it. This trick may sound simple, but it can take practice for leaders to actually pull it off. It requires confronting uncomfortable emotions and rationally setting them aside in favor of practical action. Leaders who can master this strategy may find they are valued as fixers and problem-solvers and see their stars rise within their organization.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.