Becoming Comfortable with Uncomfortable

By: Taylor

As a Minnesota born Hmong-American, it’s never been uncommon to find myself in a situation in which I am almost entirely the only person of color (P.O.C.) in the room. While I encourage everyone to communicate with people of different backgrounds, it happens almost without thinking to interact and group together with people you find yourself more in common with. Those commonalities often times are found in how you were raised, food you do or don’t enjoy, sense of humor, and other things that are heavily influenced by culture.

Image: looking at the blue sky up the side of colorful building 
Text: being comfortable with uncomfortable

Despite the uncomfortability anyone could experience when in a room full of people you assume you don’t have many commonalities with, whether in a classroom or at your workplace, is inevitable and will happen more than once in your life. Here’s a few notes and tips I’ve jotted down from my encounters.

Be open. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Another thing humans do when meeting new people is to automatically go to our schemas or stereotypes we have about certain people in our brain. It’s important to remind and train yourself to not always assume the stereotypes we have in mind are correct. Have an open mindset; be open to learning new cultures, new traditions, and new and different stories.

Be aware. Humble yourself.
Often times it’s hard for anyone to admit they don’t understand or know something. Microaggressions are defined by Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).” Be aware of your comments to others. Humble yourself to the person or people you don’t have many commonalities with by letting them know you aren’t culturally aware and are genuinely interested in learning more from them.

Be yourself. Enjoy the awkward process!
Meeting and putting yourself out there isn’t always the most comfortable and ideal environment, even for people who consider themselves an extravert. In doing so, that uncomfortableness is heightened when you have no idea what to talk about when you don’t think you have many things in common. Remember to be yourself whether that’s talking about activities or clubs you’re apart of or are interested in, to a funny-cringey story about middle school (I’m convinced it was an awkward and weird time for everyone).

Meeting and being open to people of different backgrounds builds your cultural competence; the ability to comfortably communicate and interact with people who have a different culture than your own. In a workplace, it’s important that you, your coworkers, and anyone coming in and out are being respected and treated equally. Here at UMD you can build it by meeting new people in the Multicultural Center, home to our Office of Diversity and Inclusion (O.D.I.). In any and all careers we will all meet people we’ve never met from cultures we may have little-to-no knowledge about.

Attending UMD has provided us with some of those resources to assist us in becoming comfortable with uncomfortable. Now only you can begin the journey of building our cultural competence, and preparing yourself to be that cool-coworker-who-gets-along-with-everyone in the career and workforce you decide to be apart of.

Of Possible Interest:
The Impact of Microaggressions
Cultural Competency & Professionalism
Embracing My Self-Identity in the Workplace
Diversity – all our blog posts on the topic

Read Taylor’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Scott Webb

Cultural Competency and Professionalism

By: David

After a fabulous training within the office a few weeks ago, I have been deeply inspired by this idea of cultural competency and professionalism. A huge shout out to our guest presenter, Helen Mongan-Rallis from the Education Department here at UMD. What struck as most eye-opening to me was how easily these two concepts coexist as one. It definitely may seem like common sense for many, but it is common sense that we do not typically think of when it comes down to it. If you want to be culturally competent, you need to be professional. If you want to be professional, you need to be culturally competent. Though the two are not exclusive to one another. Throughout today’s post, I will elaborate on what I learned about culture and power and how it all ties into professionalism.

Culture and Prof

Culture & Power

To better understand culture we must first understand power. It is important to understand that cultural norms are defined by those who are in power. For instance, a key moment from the training was, “how do we define professionalism in a workplace and who gets to control that? Would it be Julie, your director?” You see, when a society or community is newly established or transitions from one to another we have to understand that the ones in power will be the ones determining the cultural norms in these societies and communities and should we break these norms we could be shunned, outcasted, and even despised. This idea that culture stems from power is one that holds much truth to it. Through various lens and perspectives, it is safe to say that EVERYONE has their own sort of culture. For instance, the UMD culture is governed by those in power which can arguably be the students altogether. But what about the culture within certain offices and organizations across campus such as Greek Life, Kirby, MC Organizations, music groups, religious groups, and so forth? Would it be the student leaders of the organization, the adviser, or the members? A quick personal example is one that occurs frequently when I have guests over. As a student of Asian descent, I get annoyed extremely quick when I have people walking around my apartment with their shoes on. As the person in power, the cultural norm under my apartment unit is NO SHOES!  In a nutshell, when having a conversation about culture or enhancing one’s own cultural competency it is important to observe and analyze how these norms come to be based on power.


So how does all of this relate back to professionalism? Well, for starters, I find it important that we understand that professionalism might not look the same for everyone. When greeting, a bow may be accepted in Eastern countries whereas a handshake is the norm in Western countries. Even in the same society, men and women may greet one another differently whether it be a handshake or friendly wave. Secondly, the significance of perceiving professionalism and cultural competency co-existing as one is extremely important. When we want to be professional in the workplace, it is important we are culturally sensitive and aware of such topics and issues that may affect other individuals whether it be race, gender, sexuality, or disability topics. On the flipside, when we want to be culturally competent we need to maintain our professionalism in order to continuously engage and involve ourselves into learning about new ideas, concepts, and topics that are outside our realm of normality. Lastly, it is important to know that professionalism and cultural competency all comes with time and no one will ever perfect these two concepts. I have many friends who are constantly immersed in what should happen in professional environments (they are in the business school), yet they are still anxious about making professional mistakes whether it be dining, dress code, speech and diction, or other acts that fall under professionalism. In comparison, I have many advisers from the Office of Diversity & Inclusion who admit that they are still continuing their path of cultural competency and just because they are people of color does not give them any more credibility to be more culturally competent than others.

In finale, the path to perfecting professionalism and cultivating cultural competency will be a never-ending journey for all of us. These two skills and concepts are critical in today’s workforce as we, as a generation, have become culturally aware and sensitive to diverse populations and communities. In virtue of the two notions, it creates a positive and harmonious work environment for all which increases productivity of the organization. At the end of the day, we have a choice to either ignore these concepts and let it belittle us or constantly invest our time and effort to improve ourselves and those around us collectively.  The choice is yours.

Of Possible Interest: 

Read David’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Benjamin Child