Do you have any phrases that your parents used to repeat over and over again when you were growing up? For me, my Father would always say, “it takes all kinds to make the world go round.” My Father would usually say this in response to me complaining about another person that I thought was annoying, or weird, or frankly just didn’t even agree with me for some reason. As a teenager I believed that everyone should think and act like I do because obviously my way was the right way. My father was trying to explain that I should respect and appreciate those who are different from myself.
As I got older and I ventured into the workforce, that approach to people was somewhat of a challenge. As a young adult, I felt I needed to prove myself and that I was right and that I had all of the right answers. But at some point I began to realize that being right was not the best solution. Actually being able to listen to someone else’s perspective was actually a beneficial thing. So, not only does it help me build better relationships with those around me, but I found that if I shared my idea with people on my team, that they could actually build on what I had started and might actually make it better than what I had come up with. Or sometimes, they would simply point out a hole or a gap that I hadn’t even considered and it would actually save me from wasting a whole lot of time.
Unfortunately we are all filled with unconscious bias, and if we aren’t careful it can lead us to select team members that think and work the exact same way that we do. It makes us feel safe. Everyone fits in. It supports our existing beliefs. However, we also know that bringing together people who have different backgrounds, different experiences, different habits of thought actually make our organizations so much stronger.
McKinsey & Company recently published some of their research on the benefits of diversity at the executive level. What they found after tracking over 300 publicly traded companies, is that companies with gender, racial and ethnic diversity at the executive level actually experienced better financial performance. This article is titled “Why Diversity Matters.” You should check it out. One could assume that diverse companies have the potential to attract top talent, avoid group think, and understand the needs of a broader customer base and those things would make sense to be correlated with better performance.
In a world where we all take sides, and then convince ourselves that there is no common ground. That every issue is black and white, I have a challenge for you. The next time someone with a different opinion than you shares it with you, listen. And don’t just listen long enough to formulate your own response, but listen to truly understand their point of view. Instead of listing out all of your counter points, state something like, “that is an interesting point you make, what led you to your perspective?” and be intentional about listening without anger or judgement.
Working with people not against them who have different experiences, backgrounds and perspectives can be a challenge, but if we allow ourselves to look for common ground and learn from each other, it can actually lead to lasting positive effects on ourselves and our organizations.
What are you going to do?
When different opinions arise, listen! Click here for effective listening tips.