Saturday, 20 October 2012

Tolerance or Intolerance for Ambiguity

If you were looking to fill a position where requirements or specifications were vague, where definition of tasks or targets could not be clearly defined, how would go about it?

This is the type of scenario that exists in many small or medium size businesses, where roles and tasks are fluid, not set in stone and maybe not very well defined. Some people work better in this type of environment. There are those who grow with and take advantage of the flexibility in a situation like this.

I have seen this at first hand in start up software companies where developers get to do business analysis, coding, testing,support,  marketing and project planning, and that is all before lunch on any given day. This gives the employee the chance to try out a number of disciplines, see which one matches their skill set best and which one they may like to go on and specialise in. They thrive on the variety and freedom which ambiguity provides.

I have seen others that get frustrated by the ever changing requirements, so many loose ends make progress hard to measure and its impossible to get anything finished as you constantly have to swap and change between tasks and roles. It is not even clear what you are expected to get done everyday. Some people prefer certainty of task and targets and may work better in a more corporate environment where your day is well mapped out, what you are expected to do is well defined and establishing or reaching your targets is unambiguous.

In order to discern which recruitment candidate best suits either role, it may be possible to use an Intolerance of Ambiguity test (sample). This type of test may give an indication of the inability to accept (without discomfort) situations that allow an alternative point of view(s) or that are vague.

If a candidate scored high on Intolerance, then maybe the vague, changeable role is not for them. If you wanted someone to implement policy in a black and white way, maybe the Intolerance would be an advantage. Think Judge Dredd here.  If you wanted someone to work with minimal direction (think Mac Gyver here) then Intolerance maybe a disadvantage as that person may struggle to quickly decide what to do next in a series of tasks where there are many choices.

If you think this post is rambling and flipping from one point to another, without being really clear then maybe you already have an idea of how tolerant you are of ambiguity. Does that suit your job?

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