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

Joanne Wang '23 RGLP Reflection

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As humans, we are programmed to want to be in control and often dread the things that are outside of our control – that of uncertainty. However, things in this world are never solely black or white; more often than not, we find ourselves in a gray area somewhere in between dealing with these uncertainties. For how often we encounter them, we should not be fearing ambiguity, but we should instead be learning to embrace the uncertainty of the world around us and learn to navigate it to the best of our abilities.    

Tolerating ambiguity entails being comfortable with uncertainty and having increased adaptability to navigate unfamiliar experiences and territories. This idea is especially prevalent in the interaction of cultures, since members of different cultures often exemplify varying behaviors, opinions, and beliefs. What is considered acceptable and common behavior in one culture could potentially be completely inappropriate in another, which in turn creates plenty of room for ambiguity when different cultures come in contact. We’re not able to immediately understand every culture that we encounter, it takes time, patience, and keeping an open and curious mind in understanding those who are different than us. Therefore, it is through lived cross-cultural experiences that we can learn to become comfortable with the cultural ambiguity that exists and be able to effectively work with those from different backgrounds.

With that being said, being able to tolerate ambiguity has become an especially advantageous skill to have in today’s fluid and multi-cultural working environment. Those who have mastered the skill of handling situations with high levels of uncertainty are better equipped to work with various groups of people and consider things from different perspectives, which is a pertinent skill to have in the workplace. As mentioned before, we shouldn’t be fearing or shying away from dealing with ambiguity, we should instead be tackling it head on and learning from the experience, and it is through cross-cultural interactions in which we are able to do so.  

Written by Gemma Tung, a member of the Spring 2021 Cohort of the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program

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