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4 Tutorials that teach Tolerance for Ambiguity
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Tolerance for Ambiguity

Tolerance for Ambiguity

Description:

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand the cultural worldview spectrum re: comfort with ambiguity or need for certainty in various situations.

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Tutorial

What's Covered


In this lesson, we’ll discuss one of the elements of worldview that can help us gain a better understanding of culture and avoid miscommunication and conflict.

The areas of focus include:

  1. Ambiguity
    1. Low tolerance
    2. High tolerance
  2. Ambiguity in conflict

1. AMBIGUITY

Ambiguity is one of the elements of worldview, and it’s simply a word for uncertainty. This could be uncertainty about how to proceed with something, about what is true or proper, or uncertainty about the future.

On an individual level, a tolerance for ambiguity refers to how comfortable you are as a person with this type of uncertainty.

But in this case, we will be using the term to discuss how comfortable a culture is when functioning in an ambiguous situation.

All cultures do tend to take a worldview position on the degree of specificity or detail they need to feel comfortable in a situation, plan, or agreement. This is certainly a broad assumption, and these positions are not absolute; they don't apply to everyone in the culture.

But in general, cultures take one of two positions on ambiguity:

  • A high tolerance
  • A low tolerance

Terms to Know

    • Ambiguity
    • Uncertainty in a given situation about what is true, right, proper, etc.
    • Tolerance for Ambiguity
    • The degree to which an individual, influenced by cultural norms, feels confident functioning in an ambiguous situation.

a. Low Tolerance

In a culture with a low tolerance for ambiguity, there would be a need to know the rules, the specific details, and procedures in most situations; there could be a lot of rules and laws, perhaps regulations that are governing things.

There would also be a need to avoid risk. Cultures with a low tolerance for ambiguity are also going to be low-risk. They have their own rules and laws, and things don't change.

You may find that cultures like this tend to be cultures that have been around a long time, and don’t have diverse populations in terms of opinion.

They have strong traditions, and in order to handle some uncertainty about the future, they make take a more fatalistic view regarding destiny.

b. High Tolerance

In a culture that has a high tolerance for ambiguity, there will be general principles, or guidelines rather than rigid rules and regulations.

There may be more diversity of opinion among the population, and there would also be an embracing of risk or innovation.

This view would be typical of a culture that was younger, and had more people coming into it, such as immigrant populations bringing new ideas.


2. AMBIGUITY IN CONFLICT

When cultures with different tolerances for ambiguity are interacting, there’s a chance of miscommunication or even conflict.

  • If someone from the United States was doing business in a culture where there was a need for more specific facts, details, and rules, the business person would need to allow time for that.
  • Perhaps someone provided guidelines or the resources needed to do something for a sense of autonomy to move ahead. That might involve a bit too much ambiguity for someone from a different culture.
  • What about more exact procedures, rules, and time to review those rules would be important from the point of view of the person coming from one culture, but changing from the old ways of doing things may not be easy. A person coming from the culture with a high tolerance for ambiguity must understand that.
  • An individual from a culture with a low tolerance for ambiguity would need to understand that the business person wants to push ideas through quickly. That's what is considered comfortable in that culture. The guidelines and resources are the way this person provides a sense of autonomy.

The ability to be open and understanding of these differences between cultures can do a lot to guide the process of communicating, in addition to navigating your way through any kind of a business transaction.

This is true in the conflict resolution process as well. Our United States mediation model is built around giving a sense of equality and autonomy to the parties who are involved, allowing them to come up with their own guidelines and solutions.

Example If someone involved in the process has a lower tolerance for ambiguity, he or she may not be comfortable with that part of the process, and may need to have an understanding of more direct procedures or rules in terms of how to proceed. He or she may also need an answer to the question of who has the power to decide how and when an agreement is reached, and what rules and procedures need to be followed.

These factors need to be clearly outlined for people coming from cultures that may be less comfortable in a situation where there's a lot of ambiguity.


Summary


In this lesson, you learned that cultures do take a worldview position on ambiguity, or uncertainty in a given situation; their tolerance for ambiguity can be either low or high.

You now understand that while this is a general concept that certainly doesn’t apply to everyone within a culture, tolerance for ambiguity could be at play in a conflict situation involving people from different cultures, and thus an understanding of it is very helpful.

Good luck!

Source: Adapted from Sophia tutorial by Marlene Johnson.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Ambiguity

    Uncertainty in a given situation about what is true, right, proper, etc.

  • Tolerance for Ambiguity

    The degree to which an individual, influenced by cultural norms, feels confident functioning in an ambiguous situation.