5 Tips for Business Professionals to Overcome Dealing with Ambiguity


A high-potential leader participating in the Business Acumen program was very upset. Sheambiguous-business-acumen just couldn’t reconcile her understanding of why the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) didn’t go down despite the fact her business simulation team “increased their Production Team budget by 1.5%” (which in the context of the simulation was really not that much). I carefully explained that the COGS is also a function of 3 other dynamic variables including raw materials, R&D, and labor costs. She responded by saying, “I just don’t understand…how can all of these things be happening at the same time? How would I know what is more important if nobody is telling me the answer?”

I explained that just like in the real world of business, there is always going to be a certain level of ambiguity and many times in business things are never going to be black and white, that there are many areas of gray such as understanding how the COGS of a product is derived. At that point, you could physically see the hopelessness on her face as she receded to the background not knowing what to do next.

Making Decisions in a VUCA World is Real

Leaders are paid to make decisions in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. Dealing with all these factors is a core capability of effective leaders. I will share with readers of this blog that something is happening out there in terms of the ability of business professionals to feel comfortable with ambiguity. Is this a byproduct of the post-covid world? Are people just exhausted? Or is it a function of a worsening economy?

I have noticed that embracing ambiguity in the corporate world seems like a fading skill. We all know intuitively that the human brain wants to avoid uncertainty and interprets danger or fear when there is a lack of clarity about decisions and the future.

In the case of our participant, she was incapacitated by her inability to deal with the ambiguity of running a simulated business where her team chose a business strategy and was required to execute that strategy through operational decisions that drove financial results. And she wasn’t alone. In this last cohort, I helped at least 3 other participants who were also struggling with the ambiguity of business decision making and it actually impacted the business results of their teams.

Something has changed in the culture of too many of the businesses Advantexe works with. The fear of ambiguity is hurting decision-making and is therefore hurting the bottom line of business. This blog helps to identify some simple and easy techniques to help leaders who are struggling with the way they deal with ambiguity in the business environment.

5 Tips for Overcoming Struggles of Dealing with Ambiguity

Based on years of experience working with and coaching business professionals, research, and the latest from the world of consultants who specialize in this topic, here are five tips to overcome the struggles of dealing with ambiguity:

Recognize the impact of inaction Being frozen by fear and the ambiguity of certain elements of the business will lead to poor results. It’s guaranteed. One of the most effective ways of dealing with ambiguity is recognizing that if you don’t act and don’t make decisions in support of your strategy will lead to failure.

Be curious – Instead of feeling sorry for yourself and making excuses because you don’t have the answers, go find the answers. Be curious and ask questions, look for information, identify best practices, and take educated risks. In uncertain times, being curious can help you stay in the light. Ask questions, seek new information, and investigate ideas that are new to you.

Be engaged - If you feel out of control in terms of all that is going on around you, it can be natural to run from uncertainty. This can help your mental health in the short term, but in the longer term, you need to stay engaged. You can also engage with your team. Stay in touch with colleagues—especially those in different regions or industries—and ask for their opinions and perspectives. Join groups of people with common interests and share ideas about trends you’re all seeing.

Be patient - There will be times when dealing with ambiguity can be so stressful that you may rush to decisions or premature actions. However, to make the best decisions in an ambiguous situation you’ll need to stay patient to take action at the best times. If you rush to launch a new product before you have understood the voice of the customer, the COGS and have created some initial awareness through marketing, you risk making an incorrect decision.

Be honest with yourself and others - After three decades of training business leaders, I have noticed that people tend to deceive themselves by not being truthful about what is really happening in the business way too much. For example, when a competitor launches a breakthrough new product, I’ve seen too many leaders discount it by saying, “Oh it will never sell because our brand is so strong,” when in reality, a great new innovative product of course will sell because customers see the value! In the face of uncertainty, you’ll need to resist these cognitive biases and be honest with yourself so you can respond effectively.





Robert Brodo

About The Author

Robert Brodo is co-founder of Advantexe. He has more than 20 years of training and business simulation experience.