3 Steps to Navigating Uncertainty with Confidence

Our brains are wired to look for patterns. We like to predict outcomes and make definite plans. When we can’t, stress and anxiety leave us feeling powerless. Uncertain situations are volatile, complex, and ambiguous — a combination that thwarts our usual access to rational decision-making.

Right now, the world seems full of uncertainty. An ongoing global pandemic, geopolitical conflict, and climate change are just a few of the macro events contributing to our collective sense of everyday chaos. Of course, uncertainty is always part of our lives — the catch is that it looks a little bit different every time, so there’s no way to predict how it will unfold.

In order to persevere, we must acknowledge that uncertainty is real, and that’s okay — even when it doesn’t feel okay. These three steps can help you navigate uncertainty with more confidence, both personally and professionally, in your day-to-day decision-making.

Step 1: Notice and label your emotions

Once you understand how uncertainty affects you emotionally, it becomes infinitely more manageable. When you’re not sure how to navigate an ambiguous scenario, pause and take stock.

  • Notice your physical experience: Has your breathing changed? Is your jaw clenched? Are your shoulders tight? Is your stomach fluttering?
  • Label the emotions associated with physical sensations: Are you feeling sadness, anger, confusion, excitement, fear? 

With clarity about your emotions, you can take action to de-escalate them, leaving you better able to make confident, rational decisions. Relax your muscles, stretch, breathe deeply, take a walk. Notice how your physical and emotional states change.

Step 2: Ground yourself with your strengths and values

Our own strengths are difficult to identify because they seem second nature. Our values feel fuzzy when uncertainty rattles us. Clarifying how you want to navigate something based on your strengths and values is just as important as deciding what you want to accomplish. Ask yourself:

  • What do people praise me for?
  • What have been my biggest successes?
  • When have I navigated uncertainty before and what was the outcome?
  • What kinds of relationships do I want to have?
  • What are my guiding principles?

Uncertainty opens up too many options, all of which seem ambiguous. Narrow down the choices to those that align with your values and strengths to guide your decision-making. 

Step 3: Communicate with authenticity

As a leader, acknowledging uncertainty reassures your team that you understand their challenges and opens the door to better engagement. 

  • Check in with your people. Listen, be curious, notice what is and isn’t being said. Invite ongoing, open dialogue.   
  • React to complexity with clarity. When you ask your team to solve complex problems, make your expectations crystal clear — and check in regularly as situations change.
  • Fight ambiguity with agility. Sometimes you have to relinquish full control, let your team guide you, or switch to Plan D. Flexibility is your greatest leadership asset in the face of uncertainty. 

When situations are unprecedented, embracing that reality empowers you to take meaningful action, even when many factors are unknown and outside your control. Taking time for self-reflection and connecting to your values help you make decisions with confidence — and transparent communication will inspire confidence in others.

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