Stranger Danger! Part 2

Hello my lovelies!

Last time we spoke about Uncertainty Reduction theory and how we fare in initial interactions, and I mentioned that URT was widely researched. Today we’re going to talk about Anxiety/Uncertainty (AUM) theory, which came about when William Gudykunst applied some aspects of URT to intercultural communication.

As we saw before, the main variable in URT is uncertainty, and the goal is centred around 8 axioms to achieve relational closeness. Alternately, AUM theory considers anxiety as well as uncertainty on an equal plane, and incorporates 34 axioms to achieve effective communication.

Image result for aum theory model

AUM theory is intercultural. It focuses on how levels of uncertainty and anxiety affect interpretation between strangers from different cultures. It suggests that in order to communicate effectively, an individual must able to manage anxiety at the cognitive level, and uncertainty at the emotional level.

Image Credit: Renee Levy at

Gudykunst specifies that anxiety is tenseness, worry or apprehension about what might happen. They’re not necessarily bad things – at least not in the right amounts.

In small amounts, they help to rationally control our communication content. Human beings are social creatures, and the moderated presence of these two things makes us want to be active participants in the communication act, always wanting to see what happens next.

You know that quote “Everything in Moderation”? It applies here too. High levels make you a communication cripple, paralysing you with fear so that your psychological noise makes effective communication basically impossible. Low levels mean you become bored, see the communication act as predictable and eventually dismiss it as not worthwhile.

So how does one avoid becoming a robot? How do you maintain the correct levels of anxiety and uncertainty? Through mindfulness. We produce effective communication relationships when we are more open and creative – thinking in new categories, open our minds to new information and acknowledge perspectives other than our own.


In Real Life…

I went to a conference a couple years ago called the Global Young Leaders Conference (Shout out to my Russia Group!). Ehem. Anyway…

GYLC is like an international version of Model UN and  kids attend from all over the world. I was one of the only two Barbadians there out of over 200 from Australia, America, Europe, the Caribbean – like I said, all over the world. I had no idea what to expect, and for the first few days I was very, very quiet. Maybe it was the culture shock, or the fact that I didn’t know what to expect from the conference. I just know that I was extremely nervous about…everything.

I have this thing where I hate sounding stupid, and trust me, when you’re at a conference about leadership, that’s not at all helpful. I was so nervous around about not knowing what was going on, and so uncertain of the people around me, I was a mute. That’s not like me at all.

Thankfully, I’m not quite sure how it happened, by the last few days of the conference I was back to my social self. I learnt that it was a learning experience for everyone, and I learnt just as much from my friends as they did from me.

Fun fact, I went at a time which coincided with Ramadan, and for a day I actually fasted with my Muslim friends. GYLC was an eye-opener, and I probably came out of it like a cultural potluck all because I opened myself to new concepts and ideas.


Is AUM sound?


Yet another theory which falls within the scientific realm, AUM theory does indeed seem sound – at least on the surface.

It’s easy to follow because Gudykunst explains in most rudimentary terms how anxiety and uncertainty relate to effective communication. He thus provides a means by which to predict human behaviour in initial intercultural interactions.

Still, recall that the goal of scientific theory is to figure out the universal truth. I have problems with this not just as a humanist, but as it relates to the AUM theory. My main issue is simply this. If it is known that the different cultures in our world interact in different ways, wouldn’t it then stand to reason that combinations of cultures interact differently? It’s only logical.

Gudykunst seems really to be evaluating intercultural communication based on culture as a single cohesive unit rather than as a group of vastly divergent entities. In an attempt to explain, shouldn’t he take into account the idiosyncrasies of each one?

In any issue of culture and communication, it becomes difficult to make a generalisation because both areas are so dynamic. Does this not dispute the possibility of a universal truth? Don’t all individuals exhibit different communicative behaviours? Inquiring minds want to know.

Cyndi, the Theory Analyst



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