How to develop tolerance of ambiguity as an integral part of personality

It has been proved time and again that those who have a good tolerance for ambiguity, have good personalities. Since the challenge of the unknown is always exciting, they tend to take any challenge head-on and manage it well. This article is an attempt at discussing some finer qualities associated with developing tolerance of ambiguity as an integral part of one's personality in some detail.


Almost a decade ago, when this author was employed in a Senior Managerial position with the TVS group of companies, there was a reference from a college Chairman that he could not ignore. The reference was to two fresh B.Com graduates who had graduated from Perambalur, a small town near Tiruchirapalli and another from Dindigul, another town near Madurai in Tamil Nadu. It so happened that the father of one was related to the Chairman and the boys were cousins.

A serious discussion with the boys revealed that their exposure to the Corporate world was zero. The boys had fire in the belly, though. Fortunately, a person who had migrated to Mumbai and who was known to the boys offered to help them live in the same room where he lived in a distant Mumbai suburb. This author told them to straight away go to Mumbai. While one of them got employed as an Accounts Assistant with a salary of Rs.10,000/ per month, the other fellow joined a mutual fund as an assistant. The former worked his way up and earned the trust of his boss. Within four years, he had qualified himself with a Post-graduate diploma in Financial Management from a local college. The other fellow was equally hard working. He learned everything and also picked up Hindi quickly. He became an expert in trading in shares and worked his way up to become an executive. He was designated Asst. Manager when he joined the Mutual fund of a famous Bank. The first guy also became a senior executive in a new mutual fund of a private sector bank. The central point of their success was in the fact that they had really accepted ambiguity as a given. They were new to Mumbai but were prepared to go ahead in life. They have good personalities focused on optimizing all their potential within a span of just three years. Of course, they have stayed on in Mumbai and do not plan to move out of the city.

The aforesaid real-world story is illustrative of the kind of hard work that is needed in today's situation. There are other variables at play in developing a tolerance for ambiguity. The discussion will center around a) Developing an eye for detail and spotting opportunities b) Having a good positive attitude c) Being ready for the long haul d) Being prepared to face any calamity and e) Always having the spirit to explore new possibilities.

Developing an eye for detail and spotting opportunities

Tolerance for ambiguity starts with having an eye for detail. And for spotting opportunities. This can easily be seen among small entrepreneurs in the smaller towns who use all their common sense to make money at all times. For example, those who buy small coconuts in bulk, having enough juice to drink are smart. They know customer tastes. Those who pack off to work tend to have a glass of juice at 8 AM. They would park themselves at places near bus stations. Their customers would become regulars. For bulk customers, some price reduction is done. There are many who buy at least four coconuts to take home. Yes, the element of risk is always there. There is perfect competition and on holidays, the sales will come down. But the entrepreneur makes at least four hundred rupees profit within four hours.

Come October and the rains arrive. The entrepreneur goes to something even more interesting. They would buy the fresh groundnuts in bulk from the farmers and sell them in the residential areas. These customers are teachers, doctors, engineers in local companies, bankers, insurance company employees and so on. The groundnut is fresh and there is a big market for the product.

The aforesaid example would bring to light the eye for detail and the ability to spot opportunities. When this happens, the entrepreneur is sure about his market and it's dynamics. It is important to note that with the growing complexities of the job market, one should always be aware of the growing markets for special skill-sets that will make a huge difference. For example, even those who get to study cloud computing from the smallest private institutes get some job or the other and then get to work in the IT companies when they are prepared with transferable skills. Such an eye for detail opens up facets of the personality that can be easily observed. The individual would have a sort of missionary zeal that goes along with a positive body language as well.

Having a good positive attitude

This may sound like a cliche but it is not. Coimbatore city is full of entrepreneurs who have this attitude. They set up businesses that offer a large variety. For example, there is one fresh sugarcane juice shop in the Sai Baaba colony with a good strategic location. When quizzed about how his shop was different, the entrepreneur pointed to the quality of the sugar cane and the machines that he uses to get the maximum juice. It is a little bit costly, but he does know that the environment matters a lot to discerning buyers who want a hygienic product without the flies warming up all over. His attitude was positive. Such entrepreneurs always have a tolerance for ambiguity. Their answers to the numerous "what if" questions are ready at all times. It has proved that those with good positive attitudes have mental make-up that contributes to developing a good personality.

Being ready for the long haul

It has been decades since the two B.Com graduates migrated to Mumbai. They were ready for the long haul. Both of them now own houses at Mira Road and are married. Their working wives support them all the way. The trick is to stick to a plan and overcome any difficulty that one is always bound to face. The challenges of the unknown are always exciting. They provide a good platform for brave steps and this is exactly what had happened in the case of the two boys with fire in their bellies.

Such patients can also be seen in those who are now 70 or 80 years of age. They would have invested in long term financial instruments. They would have braved some financial difficulty with the best of adjustment capabilities. The entire family would have been involved in looking at any situation as an opportunity to save for the future, to cut down costs, spread happiness and hope. Hence, developing a good tolerance for ambiguity also means that one is ready for the long haul. When one is ready for the long haul, that quality rubs off on the person's personality as well.

Being prepared to face any calamity

This can be a closely aligned quality of being ready for the long haul. If one is prepared to mentally face any calamity the particular situation presents many opportunities to adapt and adjust. For example, many families in so many towns of Tamil Nadu went on to the distant suburbs to save on house rent in the aftermath of the 2008 global meltdown. Since the monthly bus pass and the train passes were regular expenses, the net savings was quite good indeed. The women who were housewives chipped in to do some job or the other and so on. The tolerance of ambiguity becomes better with such preparedness. Such people have personalities that always look assured and never ever give up.

Always having the spirit to explore new possibilities

Developing the ability to explore new possibilities is another important quality. New possibilities such as entrepreneurship are always available. Those who have a high tolerance for ambiguity do not sit idle at home. They always explore new possibilities, which will open up new opportunities. And when this happens, the situation that was seemingly frightening would seem deceptively simple to handle. The most creative of solutions have always emerged in circumstances that seemed to suggest a dismal picture. The reality is that the situation itself is not so bad at all. For instance, the range of services in the catering sector keeps on increasing day after day. As long as there are human beings, they need to eat. Lack of time would simply mean that there will always be a good demand for ready-made food. This is just not any rocket science.

Hence, those who develop the spirit to explore new possibilities will always develop a tolerance for the ambiguity of a tall order. In fact, there is so much to learn from such experiences of people whose personalities and identities look forward to utilizing every moment of their time to becoming richer and better in the overall scheme of things.


The aforesaid details pertain to those essential qualities that contribute to building a good tolerance for ambiguity that, in turn, becomes an integral part of one's personality for all times to come.

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Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao23 Oct 2019 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 6

The path is always not clear. When we start travelling to a new destination we may not be sure of the route. But using the available opportunities and knowing the correct way will see that you will reach the destination early.

The same is the case with employment also. When we join in an organisation we don't know much about the organisation and the 4 Ms of the organisation ( Man, Machine, Material and Method). So there will be a lot of ambiguity. To overcome that is very difficult and so one must plan to go forward by seeking solutions from time to time and making the path clear for yourself.

No one will give you a ripe banana by removing the skin and ready to eat. You should know how to get a banana, how to remove the skin and then how to eat. In our profession also no one will guide you till you reach the top. They will try to give a push as long as their hands' support. Afterwards, you have to go up on your own. Mind you, there will always be obstacles in your way. How you overcome is the ability. So try to focus on the goal. Concentrate on the work and solve the uncertainties and go forward.

Good work from the author and it will be a very good lesson to people who want to excel in their service and get good promotions and reach good positions.

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