How to Know Whether to Trust the New Guy

Feeling uncertain about a new employee or situation at work? As it happens, that very reaction may be what helps you get ahead in the office. That's according to a new study out of Brown University.

Oriel FeldmanHall studies cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences; she wanted to see if there was a relationship between tolerating ambiguity and displaying trust and cooperation. This is not the same as tolerating risk — in that case, you have an idea of all the possibilities, and how likely each one is. Accepting ambiguity is about having little to no information at all.

"[W]e constantly need to figure out what other people are feeling and thinking," FeldmanHall said in a press release. "Even if someone tells us they are angry, they may not be telling us how angry they really are, or why they might be angry in the first place. In other words, we try to predict other people without ever having full access to their 'hidden' states."

She designed a series of tests, which ultimately showed that participants who could tolerate ambiguity where more like to prioritize the wellbeing of other people, rather than just their own. In short: This quality might make you a better colleague at work.

FeldmanHall classifies things like gossip as information-gathering, perhaps a sign of being unable to tolerate ambiguity. But one thing is clear: If you're trying to suss out a person or a turn of events, stay open to the information that comes your way. It might help you make the best decision for the team in the end.