Three things you can talk about when you don’t have all of the answers

Let’s face it, the business world has become quite uncertain.  Helping people manage through that uncertainty can be difficult.  Many leaders feel similarly challenged as they are often as unsure about what is happening as are their teams.

We know that uncertainty breeds anxiety.  An anxious workforce is not a productive, happy, or engaged workforce.

The good news is that you can provide clarity in ambiguous situations even when you don’t have all of the answers. In fact, sometimes staying out of the details can actually help increase clarity.

Don’t stress out over what you don’t know.  Instead, focus on what you do know.  It takes a surprisingly small amount of information (if it’s the right information) to help someone regain his or her sense of certainty and clarity.

Here are three simple steps to increase clarity during uncertain times.

Tell a simple story – Context and understanding play a greater role in creating meaning than do details.  Sometimes too many details confuse rather than clarify a situation.  Keep your story about the situation simple, high level, and to the point. Follow the traditional “journalism” questions of who, what, where, why, when and how.  Pay particular attention to the “why”.  That is where most of the context lies.

Draw the boundaries – When day to day roles and tasks are in flux, it’s always helpful to remind people about the broader guidelines under which they are working.  Focus on:

  • Goals, outcomes, and metrics
  • Criteria for success
  • Guiding principles
  • What is in and out of people’s control

The boundaries in which people do their work change less often than the work itself.  By clarifying the boundaries, you redirect your people’s attention to what is remaining constant.  It will help your people regain a sense of control and empowerment over their work, even if that work is not yet perfectly defined.

Explain the process – If you don’t have the answer, help your people understand how the decision is being made.  Focus on:

  • The key questions or criteria that are being used to make the decision
  • The options being discussed
  • Your point of view on what option/solution is most likely
  • The timeframe and process for making the decision

Having a definitive answer is always the best option. However, giving people visibility into the process helps them regain some sense of control and clarity.

If you or your team are struggling to make sense of an ambiguous work environment take a step back.  Instead of looking for detailed answers, try to get a better understanding of the broader context in which you are operating.



Brad Kolar is an executive consultant, speaker, and author with Avail Advisors.  Avail helps leaders simplify their problems, decisions, data, and communication. Avail can help your leaders better manage during times of uncertainty and ambiguity.  Contact Brad ( to find out how.


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