We face ambiguity often… so often, I propose, that it is a natural condition–not a problem or challenge. Let’s face it, we live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world.
So, what do you do when you are constantly bombarded by ambiguity or “apparent contradictions”?
One of my recurring observations is the temptation to drift toward cynicism when these inconsistencies occur. In the end, that simply leads to frustration, anger, disengagement, and toxicity.
I’ve developed the following principle to help me deal with this phenomenon, as well as to shed light on it for others. The principle is much more simple than it appears.
Paradox or Hypocrisy: When confronted with an apparent contradiction, do not default to cynicism.
Let’s look at a simple explanation of the terms:
– Paradox: the existence of conflicting truths
– Hypocrisy: say one thing and do another
Do you find yourself constantly involved in situations where you need to solve a problem, make a decision, or take action? And as you continue to gather information and knowledge, you find yourself faced with an ill-defined situation and perhaps “conflicting truths.” Yeah… me, too.
Do you also find that a lot of the time, the information seems to contradict itself… appearing as if the people involved are being hypocritical? I get it… it’s hard to tolerate hypocrisy (saying one thing and doing another). It’s difficult to trust a hypocrite. My suggestion is that before you decide that that’s what’s happening, you continue to gather information and knowledge. Seek to clarify beyond the apparent contradiction. You may simply be being confronted with a paradox. Or, the situation may be ill-defined or subsequently changed to where the actions people are taking appear to be conflicting with the facts as you know them.
Bottom line, the majority of the time that I observe low morale or frustrated people and probe for the source of the frustration, it usually stems from this type of confusion. The way things appear just ain’t right. The people involved seemed to contradict themselves. The frustration reaches higher peaks. That may be the way it appears… but we know that everything isn’t always as it appears.
Take the time to thoroughly evaluate the situation and make sure that you illuminate or eliminate potential blindspots that you may have. You may be surprised that the “conflicting truths” are a paradox (and not hypocrisy). Or, the facts may have changed altering the decision making process.
“Gathering information and knowledge” is the new FIRST STEP in the Military Problem Solving Process (relegating “Identify the Problem” to Step #2) and can’t be stressed enough. In fact, “Gathering information and knowledge” should be continued throughout the entire problem solving process as new information will continue to be discovered. This continual process will help you more clearly define the actual problem. It will also clarify the need to involve more people (or not) in the collaborative process.
Additionally, critical and creative thinking are vital skills… and are very much worth studying and mastering. Being aware of the common rules of thumb and barriers to critical and creative thinking will help you navigate the hidden social obstacle course.
A serendipitous approach may seem easy and the right thing to do, but expect it to hurt a bit. What appears as common sense may be clouded by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). This is why I’m recommending an “uncommon sense” approach… with a degree of mastery and intentionality. Again, Paradox or Hypocrisy: When confronted with an apparent contradiction, do not default to cynicism. Be diligent and explore your way through the apparent contradiction.
QUESTION: How have you dealt with apparent contradictions in your daily life?