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Improve Fluency: Ambiguity, Complexity, and the Power Gap

Deal with ambiguity, complexity, and difficulty in the workplace by improving your fluency.

Today’s workplace is multicultural, multigenerational, and far more complex than the office of yesteryear. Rather than blustering or bullying their way through these changes, good leaders learn to adapt to the new reality by becoming fluent in leading and communicating with people who may think differently than they do. Jane Hyun, co-author of Flex, has some specific advice for leaders trying to make this transition.

Move beyond the Golden Rule

  • Adapt your leadership style to match the different communication preferences of your employees.

Prepare for each interaction

  • Acknowledge that your default mode of communication may not work for this individual.
  • Pre-engagement Questions:
    1. What is he/she thinking?
    2. How do I best connect with this person?
    3. How can I put myself in the other person’s shoes?

Over to You

In the next step, you will watch a video. Before moving on and watching the video, consider and reflect upon the following. You can write your thoughts down in your learning journal if you wish.

1. Self-assess: Let’s begin, once again, with self-knowledge. Which of the following descriptions most closely matches your response to changes in workforce demographics?

  • No news is good news: unaware of changes in workforce demographics; leadership style stays the same either way
  • Golden rule still applies: aware of changes in demographics, but largely still reliant on existing management principles and the “golden rule” (i.e. treat others as you want to be treated)
  • Golden rule may not always work: working to modify existing management principles in order to accommodate changes in demographics

There are no wrong answers; any starting point is fine. However, if you identify with the first two approaches, it may be worthwhile to pause before the next step, and simply reflect on how your workforce has changed over the past 3-5 years, and the implications for your organization.

2. Get comfortable with ambiguity and complexity: Now that you’ve reflected on yourself, you’re in a good position to start tuning into others who are different from you. Start by thinking of a direct report whose behaviour is concerning or confusing to you in some way. What aspects of their comments, body language, actions, or performance feel ambiguous?

With this in mind, apply Hyun’s three pre-engagement questions to the relationship:

  • What is he or she thinking? What’s going on in terms of mindset, preferences, and modes of thinking?
  • How do I best connect with this person? What type of setting/interaction would make them most comfortable?
  • How do I put myself in the other person’s shoes? Even though I’m a different person, how can I best understand what it’s like to see things from his/her perspective?

3. Flex across the power gap: In your next interaction with the person you identified, practice “reaching across the divide” using the responses to your questions as your guide. You could choose a neutral setting to meet, for example, or you could kick off the conversation with some open-ended questions to confirm your assessment of where the other person is coming from.

4. Reflect: After the interaction, reflect on the experience. What are your observations? How did your behaviour and/or modes of communicating change after getting comfortable with ambiguity and complexity and flexing across the power gap?


Before you watch the video in the next step, use the files in the “Downloads” section to reflect on the questions there.

You should work on the file that relates most closely to your level in your company :

  • Team Manager
  • Senior Leader
  • Individual Contributor

You should only complete the “Reflect” questions at this point. You will look at the “Apply” questions again after watching the video.

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Emotional Intelligence in Practice

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