• Jeff Doolittle

Dealing with Ambiguity at Work: 1 Tool You Need



An increasingly ambiguous world is impacting all of us. Effectively dealing with ambiguity is an essential life skill and a modern business imperative for employees and leaders at all levels and companies of any size. Having a reliable way to bring clarity to workplace ambiguity helps you avoid costly mistakes and improve performance. So, how do you deal with ambiguity in the workplace? This article presents the researched impacts of role ambiguity on individuals and businesses and introduces a simple yet powerful tool anyone can apply for dealing with ambiguity.


The Impacts of Not Dealing with Ambiguity


As the world changes, businesses and individuals must change too. Organizational changes increase the opportunity for role ambiguity. An important part of change management consultation is helping individuals, teams, and organizations gain clarity during change and dealing with role ambiguity created by the changes.


Role ambiguity is described as one employee's understanding of their job or organizational objectives being different from another's, leading to an unproductive workplace conflict or wasted efforts. Poor communications, unclear policies, or a general lack of workplace relationships are typical sources of role ambiguity.

Several studies have shown that role ambiguity has significant negative personal and workplace results. One study within the Big Four Public Accounting Firms demonstrated that organizational role ambiguity led to decreased performance, increased work stress, and employee turnover. In this same study, role ambiguity significantly increased anxiety and physical and psychological stress at an individual level. Even when a team has good working relationships, role ambiguity increases non-productive conflict and employee burnout.



How to Deal with Ambiguity


One simple and powerful tool for effectively dealing with role ambiguity is a RACI matrix. I have used this leadership tool at the organizational talent, team, and company-wide levels resulting in enhanced role clarity, improved workload balance, and decision making.