Uncertainty avoidance deals with the behavioral perspective of people in a particular country or organization. It is one of the intercultural dimensions developed by Dutch sociologist Geerd Hendrik Hofstede. Hofstede studied the degree to which people of a nation prefer structured over unstructured situations. Uncertainty avoidance is defined as a measure of degree to which people of a specific culture tolerate risk and feel threatened by uncertain situations. The reason for differences can be attributed to human genetics, but society, spirituality, religion, etc., also play an equally important role along with a lot of other sociological perspectives.
Students in the USA consider answering a question even if they are not so sure about the answer. If they have a thought or an idea, they like to share it with their fellow students and are open to feedback and criticism. Their Japanese counterparts, on the other hand, answer a question only if they are absolutely certain about the answer. This behavior of two contemporary human communities displays different approaches to uncertainty. Also, in Japan, it is considered good to not have a disagreement with your employer. This is one of the reasons that most Japanese workers adopt a submissive stance in their organization, whereas workers in other countries often engage in debates as they consider ambiguity an important part of their work culture. According to Hofstede's index, uncertainty avoidance in Japan is among the highest in the world. This in no way means that the Japanese are less efficient that any other people; in fact, Japan is one of the most industrialized countries in the world and the resilience of its people after World War II is something that the whole world looks up to.
Another example of uncertainty avoidance can be seen in the way parents in India prefer marrying their daughters off to a boy of their choice. This type of marriage is known as "arranged marriage", and although Indian society has opened up to the western culture, these still form an overwhelming majority of all the marriages in India. This behavior exhibits avoidance of uncertainty, as the parents feel it is the best way to ensure a secure future for their children. This may not be seen in the west, where people have greater degrees of freedom in almost every walk of life, including the freedom to choose their life partner.
(The examples given above are for informational purposes only and are free from any kind of prejudice)
High Uncertainty Avoidance Traits
As mentioned earlier, the difference in the degree of avoiding uncertainty depends upon various socio-economic and socio-religious factors. Research has found that countries/people in high uncertainty avoidance countries show certain similar characteristics. Let us take a look at these traits.
- Countries that have a long history rank higher on the uncertainty avoidance scale.
- The population of the country is homogeneous.
- New ideas are not encouraged; instead, sticking to the structure is preferred.
- Citizens are cynical of their nation/government.
- Belief in superstitions and luck is higher.
- More people are smokers and the country has a higher rate of motor accidents.
Low Uncertainty Avoidance Traits
Now, let us take a look at some of the traits of countries/people that are more likely to take risks.
- These countries have been formed recently or have gained independence recently.
- The populations consist of multicultural and multilingual people.
- Risk taking ability is valued and is seen as a quality of successful entrepreneurs.
- There is a feel-good factor among the citizens.
The importance of sociology in international business is immense, as work styles differ across the world. So, instead of being skeptical, organizations should be better prepared about what to expect while trading on foreign shores.