Let’s face it, hearing the word “ambiguity” does not give one a warm, fuzzy feeling.


People generally do not like ambiguous situations because dealing with the unknown is well, uncomfortable. It’s hard to welcome change or accept ambiguous situations when you don’t have all the facts.


Some individuals can navigate these situations just fine, while others perceive them as threatening and respond with avoidance behaviors (denial, ignoring the situation, getting overwhelmed by stress, etc...). This is particularly true for those who prefer things a certain way, see things in black and white or as good or bad only, prefer the familiar over the unknown, or who generally do not like change.


It’s important to note that intolerance to ambiguity is completely normal. How we deal with ambiguity is largely based on our past experiences and our ability to trust. We can increase our tolerance for ambiguity by changing how we view these situations, which will help us become more adaptable to change.  But first, let’s look how ambiguity originates.


Simply stated, ambiguity stems from new situations, complex situations, or contradicting situations. In these circumstances, there are multiple, complex, or contradicting factors to consider in order to arrive at a resolution. These types of circumstances can make anyone feel unsure of their decision- making skills and the best approach needed to resolve the issue.


So, what can we do to improve our response to these situations?


First, we need to remove the perception that ambiguity is a threat. We can navigate around the unknown by utilizing something we all possess – our intuition. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s your sixth sense or that instinct that often guides you toward knowing something is right. Intuition is a scientifically recognized skill, so trust in this inner-voice that’s providing you clues.


Other things we can do to help develop our tolerance for ambiguity:


Take your time. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed by today’s fast-paced world. Practice mindfulness by staying in the present moment. Anxiety is often caused by our inability to stay in the present moment and by ineffective communication. Most of the things we worry about never come to fruition (thankfully). Mindfulness is a valuable tool in regulating emotions, which actually take up a great deal of resources during pressing times.  


Try to learn more about the situation at hand. Look at things from all angles. Request more information and do a risk assessment of the pros and cons of each path. Share your scenario with others and request their input. The more information you gather, the clearer your decision will become.


Simplify distractions and practice self-care by focusing only on the important things. Try to break down the situation into small action steps, ignoring the components that do not matter. Create time away from the problem to ensure you’re getting adequate downtime.

Trust in yourself, step out of your comfort zone, let go, and move on. Realize that all you can do is make the best decision with the information you have at the time.  


Remember, ambiguity and change are a normal part of life. Ambiguous situations, although undesirable, are navigable. It’s perfectly acceptable to temporarily relinquish control as we allow circumstances to take shape. It’s also normal for life to feel messy sometimes. We’re all a work in progress.


If you feel like you’d like additional help in this area, call me at 512-470-6976 for a 20 minute complimentary phone consultation.


Arlitsch, K. (2016) Tolerating Ambiguity: Leadership Lessons from Off-Road Motorcycling Kenning Arlitsch Journal of Library Administration Vol. 56, Iss. 1, 2016. doi: 10.1080/01930826.2015.1113063

Bochner, S. (1965). Defining intolerance of ambiguity. Psychological Record, 15(3), 393–400.

Brown University. (2018, June 12). People more likely to trust, cooperate if they can tolerate ambiguity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from

Budner, S. (1962). Intolerance of ambiguity as a personality variable. Journal of Personality, 30(1), 29.

Burke, L. A., & Miller, M. K. (1999). Taking the mystery out of intuitive decision making. The Academy of Management Executive, 13(4), 91–99.

Dugan. M (2018) Tolerating Ambiguity. Accessed:

Fewster, K., & O’Connor, P. (2017) Embracing Ambiguity in the Workplace, QUT Business School.

Furnham, Adrian & Marks, Joseph. (2013). Tolerance of Ambiguity: A Review of the Recent Literature.Psychology. 04. 717-728. 10.4236/psych.2013.49102.

Ogunleye, Adedeji J. & Osagu, Judith C. (2014) Self-Efficacy, Tolerance for Ambiguity and Need for Achievement as Predictors of Entrepreneurial Orientation among Entrepreneurs in Ekiti State, Nigeria. European Journal of Business and Management, Vol.6, No.17, 2014

Wilding, M (2018) How to Make Better Decisions by Improving Your Intuition.

All rights reserved. Man Up Therapy is developed & published by Aotearoa Therapy Services PLLC.

  • Facebook - White Circle
  • Instagram - White Circle

Man Up Therapy.

3811 Bee Cave Road, Suite 204, Austin TX 78746.