An important skill in the workplace is figuring out what to do in situations that aren’t clear-cut. In corporate speak we call this “navigating the gray areas.”

What does it mean? It means there’s not just ONE way to get things done.

Not every situation at your work is black and white. There might be times when it’s not crystal clear what the steps are in a process, or there may be a few ways to do those steps, and it’s not clear which one is correct.

What Gray Areas Look Like

Here are some common, real-life examples of workplace gray areas:

Example 1: The company made changes to the organizational structure and certain roles were changed or eliminated, which left responsibilities and tasks in the gray area.

Example 2: There was a new marketing campaign with techniques and content that had never been used previously. Because it didn’t follow the exact process of all the other projects, it left a lot of questions about how to get it done. Who was going to do what? Who was going to delegate tasks?

Navigating the Gray Areas

If you’re the person who’s doing the task that is not clearly defined, your initial reaction might be confusion, frustration, and even blaming someone else.

You might want to insist things are done your way so you can control the outcome. This might make things feel easier initially, but ultimately it won’t ensure the best results for your workplace relationships.

Here’s what you can do instead:

  1. Be curious. Is there something to learn from this situation?
  2. Suggest solutions. Do you have a new way to do it? Great. Put that idea out there, but be ready to listen to other ideas as well.
  3. Consider picking up the slack. Can you do more?
  4. Know that the responsibility is a team effort when there is gray area. Can you solicit the help of others and be open to their way of doing things?

And remember, a job description is never just black and white. A workplace is full of gray areas. Even though it can feel a little unnerving when you can’t control what’s happening, remember that you can control what you do in those situations.

Wish you had some support navigating the gray areas at work? Click here for a free coaching mini session so you can learn how to deal with the unexpected in your job. [click here to get free mini-session]

Image by Melody P, Unsplash