#3–Ambiguity: Paradox or Hypocrisy?

The 3 Greatest Barriers to Partnership: Part 1 of 3

In the next three posts, I’d like to introduce what I’ve identified as the “3 Greatest Barriers to Partnership”. Each of these three barriers also apply to learning and communication… which are fundamental building blocks for individual stability, stable partnerships, and stability at community level. Addressing stability at these three levels is a core principle of LEAD FROM YOUR CURRENT POSITION®.

#3 Ambiguity: Paradox or Hypocrisy?

We face ambiguity often… so often, I propose, that it is a natural condition–not a problem or challenge. After all, how do we know we know the whole truth. We know what we know… from our viewing angle and perspective. But let’s face it, we live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world where ambiguity is a natural condition. Being able to navigate in the face of ambiguity is a vital skill.

The story of the Blind Men and the Elephant illustrates how ambiguity is so prevalent… and gives us insight into need to communicate, continuously gather information and knowledge, respect others’ perspectives, collaborate and promote transparency.

There are a few things you can do to better deal with ambiguity:

  • Do Not Default to Cynicism
  • Continuously Gather Information and Knowledge
  • Develop Your Critical and Creative Thinking Skills

Do Not Default to Cynicism

So, what do you do when you are faced with ambiguity or “apparent contradictions”? One of my recurring observations is the temptation of people to drift toward cynicism when these inconsistencies occur. In the end, that simply leads to frustration, anger, disengagement, and toxicity. Look around, it’s all over our political system, the media… and it may occur in and around your world (family, friends, and work, etc.).

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.  Wayne Pollard

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 evaluate information, 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.

Continuously Gather Information and Knowledge

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 someone who appears to be 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… or at least it may not be as it appears to us.

Gathering information and knowledge should be continued throughout the entire problem solving process as new information will continue to be discovered. This continual process of evaluating a situation 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.

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.

Develop Your Critical and Creative Thinking Skills

Additionally, critical and creative thinking are vital skills that can help you deal with ambiguity… 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. Develop your critical and creative thinking skills. Look

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 to “see” the full elephant.

DISCUSSION QUESTION:  Do you easily recognize when you may need to stop talking, start listening, and collaborate to “see” the full elephant?

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