We humans want unambiguity, clarity and unambiguous facts. We want to be able to plan and assess as much as possible. But the problem is, unfortunately, that our world doesn’t work that way. And if we did not want to admit it until now, the pandemic teaches us that now at the latest! I don’t know about you, but the situation of still not knowing when we will be able to live our usual daily lives again is wearing down many people in my professional and private environment. For months, we have been confronted with ambiguity and uncertainty, both in the media and in our everyday lives. The competence of the hour here is called: Ambiguity tolerance!
Ambiguity is a common word in English, meaning ambiguity, and refers to the fact of not having knowledge about the opportunities or risks of a situation. It is often mentioned as an important component of intercultural competence, because in cultural encounters or encounters with ‘strangers’ situations increasingly arise that cannot be classified well at first or whose meaning is not understood. The pandemic situation also confronts us with something foreign, hitherto unknown to our generation, in the form of a risk of disease that deeply unsettles us, as do the discourses on the sense and benefits of the measures.
Ambiguity tolerance can help us here, because it stands for the ability to endure such situations well, i.e., to accept both ambiguity and uncertainty without letting fears and doubts wear us down. Ambiguity tolerance, sometimes also called uncertainty tolerance, thus describes a person’s ability to accept uncertainty, ambiguity, and contradictory actions or information with a certain degree of composure. As the literal translation from Latin suggests: “ambiguitas”, ambiguity, “tolerare”, i.e. being able to tolerate.
The good news is: dealing with ambiguity is something you can learn, i.e., you can train ambiguity tolerance and the ability to deal with uncertainty. Unfortunately, this does not happen overnight, because changing thought patterns, habits and behaviors takes time. Here are 3 tips for this:
1) Accept that uncertainty is part of life: nothing is certain in the long run neither personally nor professionally. And that’s a good thing. If everything were predictable and plannable, wouldn’t life be miserably boring?
2) Look for the good in ambiguity: Playfully dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty will show you that reactions such as fear, aggression or powerlessness are often unnecessary, indeed, sometimes even the unexpected holds a good result! This refers equally to encounters with people who think and act differently from you, as well as to surprises that life has in store!
3) Playfully integrate thoughts of uncertainty into everyday life: Integrate small thought exercises into your everyday life that let you consciously play calmly with situations whose outcome you don’t know. What if you suddenly couldn’t make an important appointment? The weather throws a wrench in your plans? Try to find level-headed and calm answers to them.
In an intercultural course the other day I had the students take a test on ambiguity tolerance and we discussed its meaning – good food for thought came out of it and we all saw the connection to the current overall social situation!
Try it out: Your tolerance for ambiguity grows to the extent that you can discover good in the unknown, and calmly face possible change! Don’t we all need this in times of pandemic?