Last week’s Hurricane Matthew that ravaged Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina after devastating Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba was a good lesson in dealing with ambiguity.  Many people in the southern U.S. had time to prepare and had much of the necessary resources.  (There were still some devastating effects in some areas, from which people and communities are still trying to recover.)  Still, where the hurricane would actually hit, when it would hit, and how long it would last could not be known, regardless of the Weather Channel.  As our schedules were disrupted for several days, I thought a lot about the importance of having a high tolerance for ambiguity.    

Ambiguity, the unknown, is harder for some personalities that others.  While I am one who has more difficulty with the unknown, my husband sees these disruptions as adventures.  He never complains about things outside of his control, while I can rant and rave, not about natural disasters, but other disruptions.  I was reminded this week how counterproductive my behavior in this regard can be, and how nice it is instead to “go with the flow.”  After all, if we can’t change a situation, what good does it do to work ourselves into a knot over it?!

Hurricanes aside, what is the importance of having a high tolerance for ambiguity? There are several important points that can be made about this.

First of all, with the rapid pace of change and the many unknowns that we all can experience, we create unnecessary and unhealthy stress when we fail to accept everyday annoyances and challenges.  This is especially true when solutions to those annoyances and challenges involve other people, and those others do not do what we think they should.  If there is anything we can’t control, it is the behavior of others.  And unless you live as a hermit in the woods totally self sufficient, you have to work with others to get things done.  How to get what we need from others without micromanaging or nattering is important enough to have its own focus in a future blog!

I am reminded of a wonderful book, Thinking in the Future Tense by anthropologist, Dr. Jennifer James, that I read years ago.   In this work the focus of Dr. James is Change, and she writes about the importance of Perspective Skills.  She identifies several necessary behaviors that are involved in Perspective Skills.  Included in this list is a High Tolerance for Ambiguity, Attention to the Repressed, and Insulating One’s Hot Buttons.    

If we don’t understand the emotional areas in our history, and what we repress, we are not able to move past those.  We all know some people who never get past their past.  I remember connecting to one of my areas that had been repressed, which is rejection.  Once I understood how powerful this is for me, I know how to better manage it.  One thing I have learned to do is to avoid people who behave with me in a manner that feels like I am being rejected.  While this is not always possible in the workplace, nor even necessary, it is possible in my personal life.  I am not saying that I can’t handle criticism; we all have to do that.  But if the criticism feels personal, that hooks me, if I am not careful.  Sometimes I get hooked, and when that happens, I have not Insulated my hot buttons.

We all have hot buttons, those things that can create fury in us, causing us to react instead of respond.  Our hot buttons come from our areas of repression. 

Keeping Perspective, which involves having a High Tolerance for Ambiguity, Paying Attention to the Repressed, and Insulating our Hot Buttons helps us not just deal with Change, but also makes us more fun to be around.  Like my husband Mike! 


About Patti Fralix

Patti Fralix inspires positive change in work, life, and family through Speaking, Consulting, and Coaching in three specialty areas: Leadership, Managing Differences, and Customer Service. Her leadership firm, The Fralix Group, Inc., has been helping clients achieve practical and tangible results for twenty-two years.
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