How often do we hear people say that they embrace diversity and then behave another way? As Ralph Waldo Emerson was fond of saying, “What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear your words.”
My sense is this happens because embracing diversity is easy most of the time. It’s not when folks are different from us; it’s when folks do something different that we feel challenged.
As leaders, it is our job to create an environment where everyone feels included so that we can successfully optimize our common organizational goals. At the same time, in these polarized times, leaders are increasingly finding team members looking for those “doing differences.”
What to do when we find these doing differences?
I remember once we invited two couples for dinner, and we were surprised when we opened the door, and one of the couples brought with them someone we didn’t know. They introduced the guest as a family member visiting from out of town. We set another place at the table and politely didn’t say anything, hoping the expressions on our faces didn’t reveal our surprise.
After they left, we talked about how inappropriate we thought they were to bring someone without asking or at least telling us. Later on, we remembered that there were always extra people at the table when we had been to their house. It was the custom in their culture to include everyone in a meal, so it didn’t occur to them to ask.
The questions that come to mind for me are:
- How do we set aside our differences and, at the same time, embrace them so that our organizations benefit from the broader thinking that diversity brings?
- How do we know when to confront behavior that seems in conflict with what we are accustomed to or when to leave it be because the behavior results from life differences rather actual conflict?