Operating in Life’s Shades of Gray


Between white and black, there are many different shades of gray.  Some are very close to black, while others are closer to white.  But, in reality, there is much more “gray” than black and white combined.  In our world, life offers a similar amount of gray; that is, not all of life’s decisions are clearly yes or no, go or stay, or go right instead of left.

So, how do we navigate between these two extremes? How do we do the right thing in the face of ambiguity?  How can we satisfy both the “go” without disappointing the “stay?”

The bottom line… how can we know which path to take when we navigate in those gray areas?  Here are some things to consider when driving to those key decisions:

  1. Legal or moral standards – Is it clear that there is a direction that clearly meets a “legal or moral standard” or an approach considered “acceptable” that should dictate our decision?  If so, we must follow that pre-determined pathway on decisions.  I have often found that making key decisions ahead of time can circumvent the pressure to make a black/white decision in the pressure of a moment.  Having certain key decisions pre-made can eliminate anxiety in the pressure of that moment.
  2. Risk – Is it possible that our decision, if wrong, could adversely impact a us or someone else?  If so, we must use extreme caution.  For example, though an issue could potentially be a safety risk, if we have systems, precautions, or barriers that would remove, detect, or otherwise prevent harm, the overall risk may be small.
  3. Mitigation of risks – If a potential decision poses risks, are there ways to mitigate or remove those risks or alter them from significant to minor?  To a large extent, the smaller we can make a risk, the less gray involved in the decision.
  4. Severity of a wrong decision – Our decisions must consider the potential impact of a wrong decision.  What if I’m wrong? What if this goes totally the wrong direction? Assessing this possibility and the worst-case scenario may lead you to take a less risky pathway.
  5. Input of others – Sometimes, it is good to involve the experience of others to make key decisions.  The wisdom of someone that has faced a similar decision is invaluable in helping us choose the right path. Involving them in “gray zone” discussions can help provide clarity for the final decision.  Including others is a sign of strength and confidence, not a sign of weakness.  So, please feel open to asking another, “This is what I am thinking on this issue.  Am I missing anything or have you ever experienced a similar event?  How did you handle it?”  There is nothing at all wrong with this approach.
  6. Red-face test – Sometimes, you can make a strong case about an issue that you feel strongly that you can defend.  However, you realize that the issues are so significant that it is better to simply not proceed.  Though you feel you can justify your decision, the potential “optics” of a wrong choice are too severe.  In short, can you look yourself in the mirror and feel you made the right decision even if it goes wrong?

Certainly, these will not help shift every gray situation to black or white, but they can help you filter the issues and point you in the right direction.   By applying experience, clear rationale, risk assessment, and soliciting the input of others, we can often clarify most of the gray we face.

Have a terrific day!


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