Uncertainty Avoidance

Lesson 2: Topic 12 of 19

This particular Cultural Dimension involves the way members of a national culture deal with the future. Is safety more important than innovation? Do people prefer conformity over risk? Sometimes high uncertainty avoidance might be linked to a history of upheaval, or legal or religious structure may insist on certain behaviors. 

Uncertainty avoidance deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man’s search for Truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, and different from usual. Uncertainty-avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute Truth; ‘there can only be one Truth and we have it’.

Clearly Cultural

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Frank, an American business consultant working in Eastern Europe, once told me his most striking experience. Uncertainty Avoidance was so high with his Polish clients that they would often ask him for guarantees that his advice for their companies would work! Why? Culture is complex, and there are many factors. Usually it’s difficult to pin down cause and effect. This didn’t keep us from trying! Frank and I had a long talk about the influence of Communism and lingering concerns about Poland’s position as a neighbor to “the Bear and the Wolf.” (The Bear being  Russia and the Wolf, Germany, by the way.) In reality, though, we cannot count on history alone to tell us why behaviors exist today. History is a definite contributor to worldview, but as we’ve seen, it cannot be counted as a sole contributor.

The United States is on the lower side of Uncertainty Avoidance. This means that we generally value entrepreneurship, have comparatively fewer rules to follow (both legal and social), and have expectations of personal self-control in our society. These factors all contribute to our culture having less concern about risk, in general.