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How to develop tolerance of ambiguity capabilities

Tolerance of ambiguity is a very important thing in these times. It refers to a situation where one has just tolerate the uncertain nature of the times, with particular reference to vital variables like employment opportunities, a situation of shortages in some areas, rising prices and so on. Coping with these ambiguous variables is a big art. Some aspects of these capabilities are explained in this article.


There are too many situations that are ambiguous in today's complex world. There are situations that are totally beyond one's control. There are situations that are totally within the individual's control as well. For example, the trade war between the USA and China is a very complex thing and can affect us in one way or the other, at the individual level. However, this is something that we cannot do anything about. However, rising oil prices is something we can do something about. For example, if we use the bicycle for shorter trips, we would be exhibiting the vital quality of tolerance with a hugely uncertain situation. The rise in prices is another. There is no escape at all. How we deal with it is a vital difference.

This article is an attempt at discussing the tolerance of ambiguity abilities, with specific reference to a) macro situations b) micro situations c) local situations d) situations at work/family and e) the near future scenarios.

Macro situations

In the present context, when the two major global powers of China and the USA are engaged in a no-holds-barred-kind-of trade war, there are bound to be hugely ambiguous situations everywhere. If the availability of global capital decreases, for whatever reason and foreign investment in India, slows down, that situation will not only be disastrous for our economy but also throw up many new ambiguous situations such as a) when will the dull markets, like the real estate market rebound? b) when will we see a huge interest in the IT sector once again? c) what will happen to the advent of the most advanced technology, in terms of artificial intelligence, and how will it play out, in terms of jobs?

These questions will bother us too. It ought to be understood that all that we can do -- and should do--about such situations, is to take it in our stride, as a given and find out ways and means to counter it. For example, we can postpone the idea of buying a very costly apartment in the city, for which there will be a huge EMI outflow. Even seventy per cent of the net amount, after income tax, if invested in a good mutual fund, can help us tide over the medium term problem of insecurity and uncertain times. Even if something drastic happens, we can easily manage. Those who had borrowed heavily, found the going very tough when the increments and merit payments were either reduced or put off, some two years ago. The same thing can happen once again and we better watch out.

Micro situations

This pertains to the Indian and the State level situations. The ambiguity that is there in say, Bihar, is worse than say, Karnataka or T.Nadu. For example, there is always some BPO job to keep going, for the graduates who know ordinary English in both Chennai and Bangalore, where the industry itself is so hugely developed. But since English is hated in the Hindi speaking regions, the graduates from those regions, from the semi-urban areas, in particular, cannot even pass the first level English test in such BPO companies. The adverse effect of neglecting English is seen very widely. The ambiguous nature of the political class is another big problem in many States.

The only option available, for instance, any graduate, is to migrate to regions where the jobs are available, take up any job, even in environs such as an upper-middle-class hotel, and then work their way up. This is exactly what we can term as tolerance of ambiguity capabilities. What does one do when faced with a terrific uncertain situation? Just get on with life, by exploring possibilities, keeping head above water, learning new skills and investing in continuously upgrading skills. Those with SAP Supply Chain Management certification are immediately finding jobs. This is one course that positively gets anyone a good job with a good salary. The promotions and further advancement in one's career happen through experience.

The constant answer to the question, "What next?" can always lead us to better solutions and tolerance of ambiguity situations in the micro situations.

Local situations

This pertains to the ambiguities at the town/village level. If a person is very poor and is based in a village, he or she, it is always seen, can only migrate to a better town, learn some skill and then practice that skill in a far bigger and better environment.

Take this culinary expert whose name was Arusuvai Natarajan. This gentleman passed away recently. From a very humble beginning in the temple town of Kumbakonam, this gentleman, through severe hard work and focus, built a culture of preparing very tasty food for weddings. He knew nothing about what will come. Yet, he focused on whatever was his core skill. He went on to specialize in A to Z marriages and has a good business now. Of course, he is gone but his brand is still famous in Chennai. This is exactly what will happen when one is focused and can take up challenges.

The small town or villages do have a big problem. The market is always limited, as the people, more so, educated people move out. The entrepreneurs will always be small. When the same entrepreneur tries his proven skills in a big city or at least a bigger town, he or she starts scaling up. This is always seen. It all depends on who you are. The same question, "what next?" is relevant here too. Seek good and positive answers to this question. You can easily get the right answers.

Situations at work/families

Sadistic bosses and unhelpful subordinates. Work pressures and the pressure on the bottom line. Uncertain end markets, for example, the car market, that can go for a toss with the constant rise in prices. The people might not go in for a new car now, since that may might a nightmare in changed conditions now. The rising tensions in the family, since the wife is also employed. Sometimes nagging from in-laws is another factor. The ambiguous nature of many events forces people to look for immediate answers, most of which are wrong.

For example, most upper-middle-class parents, spend up to eighty hundred thousand rupees as bribes or donations to get a medical college seat in Tamil Nadu. Their entire savings is gone. So are their immovable assets. Is this huge risk essential? If the boy has scored quite well, alternatives are available for fairly good education in Russia and Indonesia. One has to just complete the examination conducted by the Medical Council of India. Even this may not be so difficult, after years of study abroad.

So, one has to look for the best possible, and reasonable choices. Spending one's life's earnings is just foolish. Today, there are so many new professions. Medicine is just one alternative. Even today, a good NEET score may fetch the student a good seat in India, somewhere in some good medical college.

In our families, the tolerance of ambiguity capabilities has to increase manifold. Wants should never be chased. A sharp focus on needs and being satisfied with needs is far more important in today's uncertain times. It has to be a collective decision to live within families. This itself may lead to endurance capabilities as well.

Near future scenarios

These scenarios are ones that we can reasonably assume, based on current data. For example, petrol is likely to touch Rs.100 per litre in less than five months. So, we can reasonably expect that prices of every single item of expenditure will shoot up. The tensions at the political level, in every State, is also likely to shoot up. Unemployment will touch a new high.

Of course, contract jobs and even casual jobs will increase. Even the IIM and ISB graduates will tend to jump jobs since the markets are very fluid. The uncertainty with the US Administration, what with Trump adopting a highly peevish stand on most issues, will only increase over the next six months. We need to just explore opportunities in our environments and milk them. For example, entrepreneurial opportunities in the food sector are huge and can be effectively utilized.


Developing capabilities to manage the ambiguous situations, in the near and in the long term, will essentially mean developing new skills and migrating to places where opportunities are available. Be it for taking up a job or setting up a small business, the focus has to be on survival in the first instance and then working one's way up. For middle-class families, cost cutting of a tall order is a big imperative. Such capabilities will help us survive these uncertain times.

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Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao17 Oct 2018 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 3

Yes, many times we have to work in very ambiguous situations and see that we will reach our goal. One should be ready to face the consequences if the expectation goes wrong. So we should always make a fallback arrangement in case our planned way finds to be difficult to follow in unexpected situations. Making three or four alternates and adopting the choice which finds suitability in the developing situation after a big ambiguity is the only answer in workplaces to face such a situation. Many times, many employees in the corporate sector will be facing this type of problems.
A good article by the author.

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