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

Ryan Penney '24 RGLP Reflection: Learning to Tolerate Ambiguity

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Prior to RGLP, I considered tolerating ambiguity to be an immense challenge. In my personal life, I naturally distinguish right from wrong without second thought; I oftentimes struggle to find the middle ground in many situations in which I maintain strong opinions. Thus, accepting that the right answer to a question or that the optimal solution to a problem may remain undefined was hard to conceptualize. Nevertheless, outside of my direct sphere of influence, complex issues rarely are solved with neat, easy remedies. Ambiguity is everywhere, and necessary.

Two sessions in particular reinforced this theme. First, “Evaluating Your Intercultural Conflict Style” with Sadhana Hall introduced the framework of the ICS inventory. By exploring each of the four intercultural conflict styles (discussion, engagement, accomodation, dynamic), it became clear how differing styles in play can either create or resolve difficulties. As such, it is absolutely necessary to be cognizant of these differences since generally an individual's style is an unknown variable; therefore, we as participants had to accept this lack of knowledge, while still communicating. Similarly, the role play activity during the session “Diving Deeper into Culture, Identity, and Communication” with Ramin Yazdanpanah reinforced the same principle. Given different cultural norms to abide by during a meal, we each had to maintain these roles while interacting with people with different backgrounds. Though challenging at times, we had to embrace difference without knowing precisely what made us different. In essence, when you tolerate ambiguity, you develop the ability to interact respectfully, focusing on the communal aspects rather than what may seem divisive.

With these practical lessons in mind, it is important to note the relevance within the workplace context. Diversity has become the accepted standard in companies across the country, as a more inclusive workplace fosters a culture that increases innovation and collaboration. Though diversity obviously includes these benefits, any clash of contrasting viewpoints will inevitably cause challenges too. This is precisely the role of tolerating ambiguity: the correct answer may not always be apparent, especially when employees each bring their own unique perspectives, and that lack of clarity is completely valid. In fact, ambiguity oftentimes signals tolerance and growth

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