(Adapted from the soon to be released third edition of The Diversity Advantage)
Have you ever had a clash with one of your staff members? Have any of your staff avoided or complained about working with another team member?
Most of the clashes or diversity collisions that happen at work occur because the individuals involved are unable or unwilling to respect and value differences, thus unwilling to address the problem. The natural inclination is to judge differences. When a factual reason for the conflict cannot be readily identified, stereotypical beliefs or biases are often used to rationalize the cause. The judgment is if others do not think and act as you do, then they are wrong .Witness the unfortunate example in the Middle East right now.
I am constantly amazed at the behavior of otherwise rational adults when they decide to behave based on emotions. Frankly it is easier to lash out based on emotions, but rarely does it lead to a reasonable resolution of the conflict or misunderstanding. If we were rational during workplace conflicts each individual would develop a verbal contract with the other and come to an agreement on how best to work with each other in order to complete the work at hand. This does not mean you have to like the person, but respecting each person’s right to work productively is a must.
This type of positive conflict resolution rarely ever happens in the workplace. Everyone is already under stress due to a lack of resources, lack of time, and sometimes lack of skill in dealing with these types of issues. When we lack the skill to resolve diversity collisions we rely on stereotypical and biased beliefs instead. Stereotypes were just waiting in the brain’s background to be snatched up and applied to the first conflict situation. (My friend and colleague Howard Ross discussed just how this works in his new book, Reinventing Diversity )Stereotypes tend to surface when we are stressed, afraid, or otherwise emotionally distressed. For example, during diversity awareness sessions, I hear participants say things like, “Well, I don’t like working with (fill in the blank). You know, she is always so moody and pushy. Probably PMSing or going through menopause.” This type statement comes from men and women. Of course, it is possible that they are right about a particular person, but more likely they never addressed the specific behavior that is offensive to them with the individual involved. It is easier to complain to others.
So, why should you care about Diversity? It affects you with each encounter with another person. You are a culture of one; there is no one else just like you, and no one just like them. Your differences or uniqueness can add to the strength of the organization if the environment is one that encourages recognition of differences and supports strategies and techniques to build on those differences in a harmonious way, as well as deal with conflicts rationally when they arise. Most importantly, you can relieve workplace stress, increase productivity, and have more fun when you are not constantly judging others based on biases.
I know this is easier said than done, so next month, I will share a four step process to use when attempting to resolve diversity collisions. In the meantime, when you sense a diversity collision coming on, ask yourself, what is the actual behavior that is getting in the way of productive work outcomes? Stay tuned, and let me know what you think!