You, a Direct Communicator? In Our Foggy, Unclear World?
You, a Direct Communicator? In Our Foggy, Unclear World?

By: Marilyn O'Hearne, MSW, MCC

We celebrate freedom in the US. Yet in our VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) World, we are not free of ambiguity. 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 with ambiguity (Ambiguity= murky, foggy, unclear).

In last week’s blog I introduced an acronym for DIRECT (Communication) that starts with “Deals with Ambiguity.”

Imagine your organization 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!) are unsure of whether they will retain their position.

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 we directly communicate while immersed in ambiguity?

  1. Before taking any action, pause and take a deep breath! (center) This simple step will literally move the blood flow from the fear center of your brain (the amygdala) to the parts of your brain from which you can think and make decisions more clearly.
  2. Think about where you are clear and unclear.
  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. Sometimes situations are ambiguous for a period of time. I invite you to remember: Out of chaos can come creativity. 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, rocketing to transformation, with my faith and gentle strength providing a firm launching pad that travels with you.) This step will move the conversation from rumors, assumptions and fear to filling those ambiguous gaps with real information.
  5. Explore and then commit to what it is you want to do as a system given the situation.
  6. Your system clarifies expectations, telling others (within the system and beyond) what they need, making requests.

The “fog” of ambiguity both makes us uncomfortable and opens the door for dramatic shifts, creativity and new ways of thinking that lead to giant steps forward.


Marilyn O'Hearne is a Master Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation. Marilyn's coaching clients report breakthrough increased PEP (Performance, Effectiveness, and Profitability, and/or Peace, Energy, and Prosperity). For 30+ years, she has facilitated development through coaching, counseling, training, writing (Renewing Your Spirit workbook, etc); teaching at universities, ILCT, and in Brazil. Marilyn’s gentle strength ("the Velvet Hammer") provides a secure foundation while challenging clients (primarily leaders and those in transition) to be their best. Visit her website for more information.

Add Your Comment