Uncertainty Avoidance – Definition

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Uncertainty Avoidance Definition

Uncertainty avoidance is a cross-cultural phenomenon that describes how different cultures or societies react to and tolerate uncertainties. This term refers to how communities cope with unpredictability and uncertainty that are evident in the major aspects of governance.

Many dimensions are used to quantify cross-cultural differences as developed by researchers, uncertainty avoidance is one of these dimensions. The extent of uncertainty avoidance that each society exhibits influence the success or failure of business practices in the society. Different societies, however, demonstrate different degrees of uncertainty avoidance. While some societies have high uncertainty avoidance, some have low uncertainty avoidance.

A Little More on Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty avoidance reflects the degree at which a society or members of a society, tolerate, cope with or combats unpredictability otherwise known as the unknown. This dimension describes individuals’ reaction to ambiguity. Tolerance for uncertainty differ from society to society, while some have lenient reactions to ambiguity, others may display strict behaviours towards uncertainty.

Using the Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), countries fall into different ranks depending on their tolerance for uncertain, they develop and implement laws driven towards sustainable development and prevention of uncertainty. Some countries have strong or high UAI, these are countries with conventional behaviors and standards approaches. Countries with weak UAI on the other hand embrace unconventional practices and are comfortable with uncertainty.

High uncertainty avoidance is attributed to less tolerance for uncertainty or unpredictability. Individuals or countries with high uncertainty avoidance come up with effective measures and ideas to combat or reduce the occurrence of the unknown, they also make changes and step by step by planning to mitigate uncertainty.

Also, high uncertainty avoidance is characterised by unwillingness to settle for unconventional ideas. Hence, societies with high uncertainty avoidance formulate, policies, rules and regulations to resist uncertainty. However, societies with high uncertainty avoidance tend to dislike other societies who are not in the high avoidance index.

Many countries are in the high Uncertainty Avoidance index (UAI), these countries include Mexico, Germany, Finland, Russia, Belgium, Italy, Korea, Greece, Portugal and Guatemala. Greece, Guatemala, and Portugal are however the highest uncertainty avoidance countries.

While countries in the high uncertainty avoidance index adopt conventional rules and standard regulations so as to minimise the tendency for uncertainty, countries in the low uncertainty avoidance index prefer informal, unstructured and unconventional rules and regulations.

People and societies that show low uncertainty avoidance engage in informal interactions, they are also mostly comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. These set of individuals or countries do not show symptoms of xenophobia when interacting with those who are not like them. They also show unassuming resistance to uncertainty which has little or no effect on the occurrence of the unknown.

Although, quite a number of countries fall in the category of low uncertainty avoidance countries, Jamaica, Denmark, and Singapore are regarded as the lowest uncertainty avoidance countries. Other countries in the low uncertainty avoidance index include England, India and China.

Risk avoidance is certainly not the same as uncertainty avoidance. While risk avoidance deals with the prevention of events that can comprise or negatively affect the success of a project, uncertainty avoidance is a dimension that reflects a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity.

Many individuals mistake risk avoidance for uncertainty avoidance (UA) but the fact is that uncertainty avoidance has nothing to do with risk avoidance. UAI deals with the conformability of an individual or society towards unpredictability.

The application of uncertainty avoidance covers a wide range of industries including the Business sector. An evaluation of uncertainty avoidance in the business field was carried out by David S. Baker and Kerry D. Carson. Their research included how sales personnel exhibit attachment and  avoidance in their workplace, 155 sales personnel were selected from Canada, United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia.

Sales personnel with high uncertainty avoidance adapt easily to their environment and see the need to attach themselves to their team but those with low uncertainty avoidance behave different as they restrain form their team and see no need to adapt to their environment.

Another study by some researcher found out that the uncertainty avoidance index (UAI) also affect how customers show loyalty to and their acceptance of certain brands. Customers can exhibit different attitudes in cases of familiar and unfamiliar brands.

Uncertainty avoidance can also be studied in the field of politics, this reflect how tolerance or intolerance of individuals and societies to uncertainty or ambiguity affect their politics. Societies that exhibit high uncertainty avoidance or whose citizens have this attribute develop low interest in politics unlike societies with individuals that have low uncertainty avoidance.

Citizens belonging to cultures with low uncertainty avoidance have more active participation in the politics of the country but those with high uncertainty avoidance are repressed politically.

Crimes are offences of any kind which are punishable under the laws of a state, terrorism is one of the crimes that every state frown against. However, a study on terrorism that was conducted in 2005 has shown that uncertainty avoidance has a connection with terrorism. This study was carried out by Robert M. Wiedenhaefer and he found out that most criminal offences are predicated on uncertainty avoidance.  Furthermore, another 2017 study on the impact between police-civilian interactions reveal that uncertainty avoidance is associated with the communications between these two set of people. Hence, uncertainty avoidance has great influence in crime related matters.

In the education sector, uncertainty avoidance also has major roles to play. Trainers or teachers in cultures with high uncertainty avoidance have structured approach to teaching and set enviable teaching standards that drive specific changes in the education sector. On the other hand, teachers belonging to cultures with low uncertainty avoidance are viewed as less knowledgeable individuals who have less answers and operate in unstructured environment.

References for Uncertainty Avoidance

Academic Research on Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty avoidance and the preference for innovation championing roles, Shane, S. (1995). Journal of International Business Studies, 26(1), 47-68.

Is eCommerce boundary-less? Effects of individualism–collectivism and uncertainty avoidance on Internet shopping, Lim, K. H., Leung, K., Sia, C. L., & Lee, M. K. (2004). Journal of International Business Studies, 35(6), 545-559.

Investigating enterprise systems adoption: uncertainty avoidance, intrinsic motivation, and the technology acceptance model, Hwang, Y. (2005). European journal of information systems, 14(2), 150-161.

Uncertainty avoidance and the rate of business ownership across 21 OECD countries, 1976–2004, Wennekers, S., Thurik, R., van Stel, A., & Noorderhaven, N. (2007). Journal of Evolutionary economics, 17(2), 133-160.

Entrepreneurial orientation, uncertainty avoidance and firm performance: an analysis of Thai and Vietnamese SMEs, Swierczek, F. W., & Ha, T. T. (2003). The International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 4(1), 46-58.

Uncertainty avoidance as a moderator of the relationship between perceived service quality and customer satisfaction, Reimann, M., LĂĽnemann, U. F., & Chase, R. B. (2008). Journal of Service Research, 11(1), 63-73.

Investigating the moderating role of uncertainty avoidance cultural values on multidimensional online trust, Hwang, Y., & Lee, K. C. (2012). Information & management, 49(3-4), 171-176.

Comparing online information effects: A cross-cultural comparison of online information and uncertainty avoidance, Vishwanath, A. (2003). Communication Research, 30(6), 579-598.

Cultural variations in strategic issue interpretation: Relating cultural uncertainty avoidance to controllability in discriminating threat and opportunity, Barr, P. S., & Glynn, M. A. (2004). Strategic Management Journal, 25(1), 59-67.

Empowering leadership, uncertainty avoidance, trust, and employee creativity: Interaction effects and a mediating mechanism, Zhang, X., & Zhou, J. (2014). Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 124(2), 150-164.

Uncertainty avoidance, risk tolerance and corporate takeover decisions, Frijns, B., Gilbert, A., Lehnert, T., & Tourani-Rad, A. (2013). Journal of Banking & Finance, 37(7), 2457-2471.


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