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Tapping into the Power of Diversity in the Workplace

Diversity is a popular term in the business world and in our culture. It’s often equated with success in the workplace. Incorporating diversity into our lives is so important there is even a national “Celebrate Diversity Month” (in April) to focus attention on the value of diversity. But is diversity alone enough to make a business succeed?

As a consultant working with businesses, I can tell you that having diversity in the workplace is not enough. While diversity provides a well of potential energy, businesses must tap into that well to realize its power. After all, what good is a deep well of water if you never use it for the good of yourself and others?

A work team with members who differ in perspective, backgrounds, age, race and personality will only succeed if those differences are understood, utilized and appreciated, and tapped into. Without support to embrace the differences, group members will likely gravitate to those who seem like themselves and may be wary of those who are different. When this happens, the potential power of the group is diminished and stifled.

One tool that allows businesses to enjoy and release the benefits of diversity is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The program has been used around the world to support businesses for nearly 75 years and it remains one of the most popular tools of its type. Based on psychiatrist Carl Jung’s work on personalities with additions by Isabel Myers-Briggs, it provides a framework to increase awareness and acceptance of diversity in the workplace.

The MBTI scores respondents on their preferences in four areas and assigns a one-letter type for each. The resulting four-letter type provides insights about how the respondent behaves in the workplace. Importantly, there are no judgments placed on any type. All are of equal value and a team needs all types to make effective decisions and achieve desired outcomes.

One of the four focus areas of the MBTI indicates a person’s decision-making preferences. The resulting type is either “F” for feeling or “T” for thinking. A T-type person tends to make decisions objectively based on principles. The F-type person prefers to make decisions by stepping into the situation using empathy.

If you are an F-type, knowing your colleague is a T-type will help you accept their tendency to apply principles to decisions instead of judging them as “heartless” or “cold.”  Similarly, if you are a T-type, awareness that your co-worker is an F-type will help you understand and appreciate why they focus on how people will be affected by the decision, allowing you to move away from judging the colleague as “too sensitive” or “soft.”  When both parties move beyond their automatic judgments, their diverse approaches can combine to produce a better decision.

Another focus area of the indicator is Introversion versus Extraversion. Here is a good example of understanding and applying this indicator in a workgroup setting: During a recent MBTI discussion session, a team member said to other team members across the table, “You should give us [meaning introverted communicators] more time to answer your questions.” The team member was explaining what the extraverted types could do to help increase communication between the two different communication types. This comment opened a dialogue that shed insights on some of the challenges the team was facing.

The introverts explained they often felt pressured to respond quickly to questions when they preferred to take some time to consider their response before sharing it. Hearing this, the extraverted types were challenged to shed their judgments that the introverts were “closed off” and “unresponsive.”

One of the extraverted team members suggested the introverts be more understanding of the extraverts’ patterns of talking more frequently and more energetically than the introverts. This request encouraged the introverts to shift from judging the extraverts as “loud and overbearing” and “hyper.”

After this discussion, I brought the entire team together and asked them to create agreements that would allow members with both preferences to have their styles respected. At the end of the session, the entire team had a good deal of food for thought and team members were moving toward an increased understanding of those with different approaches.

Each of us likes and prefers how we communicate. We have a great deal of practice with our own style, so it feels natural and comfortable. Using diversity and the approach of another personality type can feel like writing your name with your non-dominant hand – frustrating! It takes more concentration, time and energy to work in a way that isn’t natural. This makes it easy to judge or dismiss those who are different. These judgments keep businesses from being effective, efficient and successful.

The MBTI offers time-tested wisdom that helps team members shift from judging each other to appreciating the diversity of the entire team. This shift releases energy, enabling cooperation and bringing the latent power of diversity to life. FBN

By David McCain

David McCain, owner of Communicating with Heart, fulfills his life purpose by helping individuals and businesses communicate more effectively. He helps individuals increase their well-being through training, coaching and mediation, and offers training, consulting and motivational speaking services to help businesses get work done more effectively, efficiently and enjoyably. To learn more about Communicating with Heart or to make an appointment with David, visit CommunicatingWithHeart.com or call 619-218-7554.



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