Role Ambiguity

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  • A role is said to be ambiguous when the expectations surrounding a single role are unclear, inherently contradictory, or highly varied and complex. An example is the dilemma frequently faced by human resource specialists: On the one hand, they are management's agents imposing discipline on employees; on the other hand, they advise employees about their rights and benefits. In complex organizations, especially when change is ongoing, role ambiguity can arise frequently, and managers should look for and clarify ambiguous roles where possible. Highly complex roles, such as those in executive ranks, may have inherent ambiguities whose resolution is neither practical nor desirable. Such roles are best filled by individuals with a high tolerance for ambiguity and pragmatic decision making.


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