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Naming Uncertainty

5 Tactical, Practical Ways to Name Uncertainty

Some of us are better with “gray” than others.  Some folks write in bold sharpie, make plans for the weekend when it’s already Friday night, read the meeting invitation details while they’re physically en route to the meeting, and drive at least a few miles with the low tire pressure or low fuel light on.  Others write their third drafts in easy-to-erase pencil, schedule plans weeks or months in advance, carefully include every possible contingency in the meeting invitation, and have never seen their fuel gauge below half. There are different extremes, but more importantly, there also exists a spectrum.

 That being said, we are facing strange times, and it’s likely that none of us talk about “uncertain times” with fondness. Especially right now, we spend extra time thinking about the uncertainty, and it can be daunting. So how do we get through?  I think one of the things we can do is to name it.

Naming uncertainty can help us. Naming uncertainty can give us something to focus on. It can also help manage the powerful fear that often comes with leaving a thing unnamed. 


So what are some tactical, practical ways to name uncertainty? 

  • Defining the borders of uncertainty – Determine what you do know and what you don’t know. These are uncertain times, but some things are sure.  

To kids and family:  I love you

To employees and team members: Our mission stays constant.

To friends and colleagues:  Today and tomorrow look pretty stable


  • Admitting that we don’t know can free us from the pressure – This is freeing. As a parent, as a caregiver, as a leader, there’s this false expectation that we have it all figured out.  Admitting that we don’t know can free us from the pressure of having to appear certain in uncertain times. Furthermore, it gives us something to be certain about; I’m certain I don’t know


  • Acknowledging that things will change more will steer us to the truth – As a leader, as a team member, as a family member, as a member of society – I’m certain that things will change yet as part of this COVID-19 thing.  I don’t know exactly what, but I know that we’ll get updates and changes from our leaders, our churches, our colleagues and our employers. This is another thing to be certain of – I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I am certain that things will change. This frees us to prepare for change.


  • 7Finding a future end date can help us deal with the gray of today – Truly, I can’t define that future day in the circumstances we’re in today – there are too many variables.  But there ARE things you can put end dates to.  Not sure if you’re going to get to go on that trip? I assure you, by your departure date, you’ll know.  If I can’t put an actual date, I can at least use “Someday.”  Even in the face of COVID-19, I’m wildly confident that this will end someday and there will be a new normal.  


  • Contingency planning can help us be tactically prepared – For example, I don’t know if it’s going to rain, but if it does rain, then I will get wet, so I should carry an umbrella. It’s a format of: If…then…and so. What are the implications of the future and how will we deal with it? Turn the ‘I don’t knows’ into contingency plans.


How about you? How do you name uncertainty? We’d love to hear from you on our social media!

Topics: General Business, Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!


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