It’s difficult to explain what tolerance to ambiguity is. It has to do with a person’s ability to cope and adapt as things around them change. Tolerance for ambiguity is important because it can help people work effectively in areas of uncertainty. One thing we know about our students future is that it is a VUCA world and we need to give them strategies to navigate a world where things change at a fast pace. One way we can do this is by helping them develop the affective skill of tolerating ambiguity.
Signs that a person tolerates ambiguity
A person that is able to tolerate ambiguity shows common characteristics. Here are a few traits (Skaggs, n.d.):
Ambiguity and creativity
Let’s take a look at the links between ambiguity and creativity through this study.
Creativity and Tolerance of Ambiguity: An Empirical Study
In this study written in 2008, Zenasni and his group performed an experiment that involved testing parents and their adolescent children in three different activities: a divergent thinking task, a story-writing task, and a self-evaluation of their own creative attitudes and behavior. The self-evaluation was done using two different rating systems: “Measurement of Ambiguity Tolerance” (Norton, 1975; Zenasni & Lubart, 2001) and “Behavior Scale of Tolerance/Intolerance for Ambiguity” (Stoycheva, 1998, 2003).
They were able to show that a person with a high level of ambiguity tolerance is likely to exhibit creative traits. The reason they had parents and their children participate in the study is that they wanted to figure out whether this relationship had some effect on the other’s creativity and tolerance for ambiguity. They found that neither affected each other’s tolerance of ambiguity, however, the parents’ creativity can influence their children.
We can conclude that parents play a large roll in this but as educators we can effect this too!
Tips on how to foster tolerance of ambiguity in the classroom
- Accept students’ input on activities
- Freedom of choice
- Encouraging more student participation
- Allow for mistakes and help reframe failure
- Encourage to stress beyond comfort zone
- Keep the classroom a safe space
- Model what it means to be tolerant of ambiguity
As educators, we need to teach students how to be more tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty. In their future endeavors, there will be plenty of situations that can’t be predicted or planned for and we need to equip them with a mindset that will allow them to remain calm in those moments. Like all things personality related, tolerance for ambiguity is a skill that can be taught through the classroom.
Skaggs. (2019, September 5). TOLERANCE FOR AMBIGUITY. Industrial Designers Society of America – IDSA. https://www.idsa.org/educationpaper/tolerance-ambiguity
ZENASNI, F., BESANÇON, M., & LUBART, T. (2008). Creativity and Tolerance of Ambiguity: An Empirical Study. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 42(1), 61–73. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2162-6057.2008.tb01080.x