The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Emily Henrich '22 RGLP Reflection: Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

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Most people structure their social and work lives to intentionally avoid ambiguity. In the age of information, with millions of Google search results at the tip of our fingers, a lack of clear and direct information may make some leaders uneasy. However, tolerance for ambiguity is crucial to a person’s ability to operate effectively in an uncertain and rapidly changing environment. The best leaders can maintain internal consistency, even as external circumstances are ambiguous or rapidly changing.
Studies indicate general cultural traits within larger ethnic communities. For example, Eastern European and African cultures tend to be more cooperative. Western cultures, like the United States, are more oriented towards competition. Additionally, the Western communication style is more direct and results-oriented. By understanding variances in even our communication style, leaders may better understand what is acceptable in one culture may be inappropriate in another. Therefore, by engaging in cross-cultural experiences, we may better be able to tolerate both verbal and nonverbal ambiguities. This verbal agility is advantageous in the workplace. The best employee can maintain high levels of contribution and better understanding of the needs and priorities of those he or she conducts business with. Embracing uncertainty may yield the most creative solutions and outcomes. 
One cultural experience in which I was forced to step out of my comfort zone and embrace ambiguity was when my rugby team played a French rugby team. As the only player on my team with any background in the French language, the team delegated the duty of communication with our opposition to me. I only had a high school-level proficiency in French. However, I embraced the challenge to invite the French team to our post-game social at a nearby restaurant. The other team was appreciative of my efforts. They even found humor in my asking “Pouvons-nous prendre une photo de vous?” (“May we take a photo of you?”) instead of “Pouvons-nous prendre une photo avec vous?” (“May we take a photo with you?”). Because I embraced the challenge and was open to the intercultural experience, I was able to find humor in this slip-up, as well. I remain friends with the French rugby girls on social media to this day. I am a better leader because I was able to find comfort in being uncomfortable. 

Written by Emily Henrich, a member of the Spring 2021 Cohort of the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program

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