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

Jessica Montoya '22 RGLP Reflection: Comfort Zones and Intercultural Work

Article Type 

In one of the first RGLP sessions, we were asked to share a cultural experience that had taken us out of our comfort zone. After given some time to think and reflect, we were tasked to share these stories with our peers. I, anxiously recalling an experience, went first. My experience was one with a past coworker from eastern Europe who initially I had thought was being very passive aggressive and unnecessarily blunt with me. I described his actions - replying to emails with few words, wanting to get right to work on zoom calls, giving out more critiques than compliments – as a sign of dislike for both me and my work style. I started to feel uneasy working directly with him for the concern that I was unintentionally causing this seemingly negative feedback. But being someone who did not know him well, I felt uncomfortable telling him how I was feeling or asking him why he was acting the way that he was. In conversation with another coworker, I had voiced my concerns only to be notified that this behavior was not directed at me and that it was a very normal approach to work from the country he was from. My coworker acknowledged that this perception was normal coming from an American viewpoint, but that having spent a lot of time working in this global company, she had gotten use to looking for intercultural differences before assuming actions were caused by genuine dislike or personal traits. Both in the moment and when retelling this story to the members of my RGLP group, I remember feeling guilty that my first perception of the situation was negative and uninformed. Not until after our RGLP session and hearing other stories that were similar, did I feel ease in both my immediate reaction and lack of comfort from my intercultural work experience. This experience definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me a lot about cultural differences in behavior – both in the workplace and outside of it. By being pushed outside of my comfort zone, I was able to open intercultural conversation, reflect on why I had felt that things that I did, and grow to be more comfortable in situations of ambiguity involving differing cultural attitudes and behaviors.

Written by Jessica Montoya, a member of the Spring 2021 Cohort of the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program

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