Embrace Uncertainty

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-cartoon-businessman-high-wire-illustration-image30920402Some researchers were conducting a study and were interviewing people on the street. They asked one man, “What do you think of uncertainty and indifference?”

His reply was, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”

We all have to live with uncertainty. Marc Schoen in his book “Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You” has this to say: “Uncertainty is inevitable. It’s human nature to find uncertainty very unsettling, and as such it’s also human nature for it to create high levels of agitance within us. As we wrestle with uncertainty, we struggle to find ways to manage it— and many attempts can worsen its effects.”

And yet, many times uncertainty can help us because it forces us to resolve problems and to accomplish more than we we would otherwise.

“Uncertainty avoidance” was one of the five cultural dimensions Gert Hofstede reported in his landmark research a few decades ago. There is both a personal and a cultural aspect to uncertainty avoidance.

Personal
Some people are, by their very nature, more adventurous and enjoy uncertainly to a great degree. Research has shown that this is both a function of nature and nurture.

Cultural
Cultures and societies as a whole also tend to embrace or avoid uncertainty. Cultures that embrace uncertainty tend to be more relaxed, feel comfortable in changing environments, have fewer rules, and are more tolerant of change. Some of these countries are: USA, UK, India, China and Indonesia.

Cultures that avoid uncertainty tend to be more rigid, emotional, plan things step-by-step, and have a lot of rules. Some of these countries are: Greece, Belgium, Italy, Russia, Korea and Mexico.

One of my favorite movie quotes comes from “The Hunt for Red October” when Admiral Painter and Jack Ryan are discussing the Russians. Ryan asks if the Russians have a plan and the Admiral replies, “Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan.” Uncertainty avoidance!

To illustrate the differences, think of Germany and England. Both cultures are fairly similar, but Germans tend to be much more uncertainty intolerant. Thus, they plan and develop programs and systems to a much greater degree.

What do we need to do about it?

At work in a multicultural situation, we need to:

  • try to accommodate our coworkers who are less tolerant of uncertainty than we are;
  • learn the rules for cultures where uncertainty is avoided; and
  • communicate better with coworkers who have different levels of uncertainty avoidance.

Personally, since uncertainty is part of life, we need to constantly deal better with it. How? By embracing it and not fearing it. Our motto should be: “Embrace Uncertainty.” Constantly expand your comfort zone when there is uncertainty.

To quote Marc Schoen once again, “For now, when you do feel a sense of uncertainty, focus on a feeling of appreciation, and teach yourself to value it and achieve a level of comfort with it— despite how you might initially react to it. You can even focus on other areas of your life in which you feel thankful. With practice, this will ultimately recondition your response to uncertainty as you begin to view it in a more healthy and constructive way.”

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