One’s true test comes when faced with unexpected situations

October 27, 2016 By    

The people you rely on most in your business are probably the people who know how to deal with ambiguity.

Ambiguity occurs when unexpected situations arise, and it isn’t always clear how to deal with them. Uncertainty can cause emotional turmoil and stress if a person has not learned to adapt to new circumstances when they arise.

After graduating from college with a degree in journalism, Jeff Selingo had his first full-time job interview with the managing editor of a newspaper in Wilmington, North Carolina. The editor picked him up at the airport and, after a brief lunch, Mr. Selingo was surprised to be dropped off on Front Street in the downtown area. He was told to go find a story before 5 p.m. He had never been to Wilmington before. After talking with several business owners in the area, he wrote about their citywide tourism campaign and submitted the story before the deadline. He was later told the article had not been the reason for the test. Instead, the editor wanted to observe how he dealt with ambiguity.

Early in life, we are taught to prepare for predictable outcomes, such as what we will need to know for a test. Then we begin our careers with well-defined job descriptions that we think will never change with the passing of time. However, in the real world, we often have to figure out what to do on our own. Anyone with small children at home knows what that is like.

Whether it’s traffic, a delayed flight or any other type of interruption in our well-planned schedule, we need to develop creative solutions instead of being paralyzed by them. When these interruptions happen, it is helpful to ask yourself, “What should I be doing right now?”

As we learn how to deal with ambiguity, we increase our value to our organization, our customers and to the people we work with.

Ken Albrecht is president of Reliable Propane in Clarence Center, New York. Visit

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