Summary. In the light of uncertain future threatening outcomes, present ambiguous information often is interpreted more negatively than it would be the case in a safe context. Black-and-white thinking is hindering positive deciphering of ambiguous information. People educated in open-mindedness and who have learned to tolerate ambiguity can better persevere in their tolerance even in situations of danger. Individuals’ dependencies on hierarchical power can cause closed mental systems that are increasingly unable to tolerate differences, ambiguities, and uncertainties. The promotion of hope might be a useful approach to reduce uncertainty intolerance that leaves more room for thoughtful and empathic decisions. It will be crucial how we instill hope and support our children to live constructively with uncertainties while retaining a high tolerance for ambiguity and open-mindedness as required to find the solutions sought for the benefit of all. What are your learnings from uncertain/ambiguous situations and how did you learn to develop a tolerance for it?
The difference between ‘uncertainty’ and ‘ambiguity’
Intolerance of Uncertainty and Intolerance of Ambiguity often have been confused. Although IU and IA are overlapping concepts, they can be differentiated as follows: Intolerance of uncertainty refers future negative events that cause worries, and intolerance for ambiguity refers to adverse stimuli in the present . Also, intolerance of uncertainty is built on the fact that information on outcomes of a situation is missing while intolerance for ambiguity is characterized by ambivalent or conflicting information available on the situation .
The effect of intolerance for uncertainty on tolerance for ambiguity
As per the discussion around the article https://www.mathias-sager.com/2018/06/12/tolerance-for-ambiguity-as-a-gateway-to-leadership-opportunity/ it became clear to me that tolerance for ambiguity respectively Intolerance for Ambiguity might be dependent a lot on context too. Thanks to all the involved for triggering that further research. While having assumed general business situations in times of relative peace in democratic countries in the last article, individual’s behavior in highly stressful (e.g., military) conditions in threatening environments needs to be looked at specifically, including both the concepts of uncertainty and ambiguity. I hope this article can contribute to that discussion.
Tolerance for ambiguity of an individual can be reduced in the context of threat through uncertainty, and especially when there is increased intolerance of uncertainty. In other words, in the light of uncertain future threatening outcomes, present ambiguous information is interpreted more negatively than it would be the case in a safe context . Besides, not only the threat itself but the possibly stronger propagation of stereotyping (e.g., of enemies) might promote black-and-white thinking that is hindering an open mindset as required to positively decipher ambiguous information. People educated in open-mindedness and who have learned to tolerate ambiguity can better persevere in their tolerance even in situations of danger .
We generally have a choice between concern and cruelty. But as the example above showed, sometimes not-so-obvious factors influence our predispositions for one of the options because intolerance for an ambiguous situation, induced by threats of uncertainty, may trigger reactions of self-defense based on uncontrolled prejudices. Interviewing perpetrators in the Rwanda genocide revealed that individuals’ dependencies on hierarchical power caused closed mental systems unable to tolerate differences, ambiguities, and uncertainties .
Hope and resilience to endure uncertainty
In our times of continued pervasiveness of populations living in environments of war and disasters, resilience is a further important concept. Hope as related to resilience is enabling individuals to imagine a better future and to endure the present despite the uncertainty for such an achievement . That way, the promotion of hope might be a useful approach to reduce uncertainty intolerance and consequently to increase the tolerance for ambiguity for a more open mindedness that leaves room for thoughtful and empathic decisions.
Growth versus safety orientation
Maslow (1968) made the point that we are oriented toward either growth or safety in our everyday lives and that a growth orientation is more favorable for psychological health and well-being . When self-protection (needs) get reduced, self-awareness can arise and facilitate the appreciation of multiple possibilities in situations, which might be the stage of personal development where tolerance for ambiguity as the capacity to accept paradoxes starts to become feasible . Systems of mass conformity, authoritarianism, and nationalism/racism are offered as a means for safety, unfortunately at the cost of growth possibilities through autonomy, creativity, and the use of reason though. After World War II this became evident and powerful movements toward an open mind of tolerance of ambiguity emerged that could cater to both safety and growth needs . It is a function of societies to prepare the next generation for life, and it will be crucial how we instill hope and support our children to live constructively with uncertainties while retaining a high tolerance for ambiguity and open-mindedness as required to find the solutions sought for the benefit of all .
What are your learnings from uncertain/ambiguous situations and how did you learn to develop a tolerance for it?
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