5 Ways to Transform Ambiguity into Meaningful Service

by Jean Marie Johnson

"Such is the idea of a great and noble life: to endure ambiguity in the movement of truth and to make life shine through it."
—Karl Jaspers

Life has a way of stopping us in our tracks.

The anonymous someone who pays for your coffee; just because.

The winter sky canopy of black lace limbs whispering "Look up, look up!"

The friend who sends you flowers for no reason other than to remind you of your own to-the-core awesomeness.

Words have that effect on me and I wouldn't have it any other way. Going about my business one early winter day, Karl Jaspers' words interrupted my well-worn tracks, wedging themselves in my consciousness and calling me to pay attention, to listen.

It's funny how a mere 25 words can have that impact. I am so grateful. And yet, a great life? A noble life? That's a little intimidating. Enduring ambiguity from moment to moment? Okay, I can handle that. It was the call to make life shine through "it" that sounded "manageable," resonating with a comforting familiarity and a well-timed challenge.

A Call to Action

A vague recollection stirred. I googled Karl Jaspers:  "A German psychiatrist and philosopher who had a strong influence on modern theology, psychiatry and philosophy." Here's what I know: wisdom captured in words is not confined by time. Thank you, Karl. But I need to bring this down to earth, into the space that you and I occupy because wisdom words are a call to action.

Each time we interact with another human being, we step smack dab into here we go again ambiguity. That's certainly true of our most intimate relationships. We hold our breath and wonder what's next. But ambiguity is the hallmark of all human interaction, no? Each contact with someone is a "moment of truth" in which "the "movement of truth" can emerge.

I know; it sounds so esoteric. But it's not. It can emerge as simply great service.

Whether your customer contact is by phone, text or face-to-face, the first decision you make is to allow for that "truth." Of course, you have been there and you know what I mean:

  • It's a willingness that begins with not needing to be right, at the same time that you commit to being of service. 
  • It happens before you tap into any communication best practices or skills.
  • It's a decision you make to breathe your life into the idea that every interaction you have with someone can be meaningful, can make a difference, if only in some small way.
The wise Dr. Jaspers didn't advocate for a particular process of communication. He didn't promote a specific set of skills as far as I could tell. Instead, I'd say that he took a step back to visit or revisit intention, the antecedent to action.

You Have What You Need

The next time you stand face-to-face with a distraught customer, hear full-blown anger blasting through your earpiece, or read a BOLD EMPHATIC TEXT!, remember that you have everything you need to "endure ambiguity" and to breathe life into this moment, this interaction. Here's how:

  • Make a decision to link with the common ground of being human. Go there. Trust yourself to listen and to hear that customer out. Now that's enduring ambiguity. Respond with empathy and a genuine desire to be helpful.
  • Demonstrate respect for yourself and for that customer. Use your words, your tone of voice and your body language in the best ways. Interact with that person in a way that you would want them to interact with you. Go on, model it.   
  • Work it out. Work your way from ambiguity to clarity and zero in on what you can do to be of help right now.
  • Translate your good intentions into helpful action. Be generous in your use of "I" statements followed by active verbs. Put it out there in clear and specific terms.
  • Wrap things up with human to human connection. Allow for the possibility that this communication is the basis for continued connection.

In our 21st century world of service, it's how you transform ambiguity into possibility. We don't know what's around the corner as we walk our familiar paths and approach or receive the next customer who awaits our helpful assistance. We don't need to. When we allow for "the movement of truth," we can welcome every moment of ambiguity as an opportunity to let life shine through it. 

On a personal note, I am indebted to Tom Larkin for masterfully embracing the mystery of ambiguity and the possibility that is its reward.

Bring it on.

Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.

Before and After
Before and After
Just one "tragic" contact can influence your customers' perception of your company (and their buying decisions). Listen to the difference MAGIC® can make.