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Think About Diversity of Thought

A business that recognizes and develops a culture that operates on acceptance can overcome diversity-related business challenges. Increasing performance through enhanced engagement is just the beginning.

But what is diversity? We usually define diversity by what we can see – age, gender, race, sexual orientation and ethnicity. What most of us miss is diversity of thought. The ways in which different individuals process circumstances deserves just as much consideration as any other difference. Diversity of thought isn’t readily obvious to the eye; yet, its impact can be the fork in the road. One direction leads to collaboration, the other to conflict, which is why diversity of thought can have a tangible impact on the workplace.

Each of us has different experiences with people, places and things. We grow up in different environments; we process information differently. These all determine who we become and drive our thinking and subsequently, our behaviors.

Our behaviors develop our worldview, the way through which we interpret the world and process information. When it comes down to it, diversity of thought is the most powerful way in which we are different, because it is the sum of our cultural, familial and situational experiences.

Acceptance of diversity of thought can drive a shift in organizational culture that stimulates creativity and innovation, and builds an appreciation of all aspects of diversity.

The return on investment for diversity of thought can be found in the increased performance of an engaged workforce. Acceptance leads to empowerment. Empowerment leads to confidence. And confidence promotes employees’ trust so they feel they can learn, focus and develop the skills needed to get the job done. Simply put, confidence drives greater contributions and higher performance levels. Organizations succeed when they can fully leverage employees’ belief in their own capabilities.

Conversely, in a non-inclusive environment, any employee who believes he or she is different would feel inhibited from contributing openly. The employee holds back in meetings, brainstorming sessions and self-evaluations. He alters his behavior to fit in, rather than risk exposure. Regardless of how an employee copes, in the end, his or her contributions to groups and the organization overall is partial at best, and the organization fails to leverage 100 percent of the employee’s talent. The employee disengages and productivity drops. Unhealthy turnover may occur. Worse, employees may “quit and stay,” or be present but not productive.

“Good ideas reside everywhere, in all kinds of people at work, but companies who don’t value the diversity of thought everyone brings to the table end up creating a culture where ideas that don’t fit with the strict culture get silenced publicly,” said Jean Greaves, CEO of TalentSmart and co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. “Diversity and innovation often value something completely different than the norm, and that creates feelings of discomfort and fear, but lack of openness will create tension at work and put an organization behind in the marketplace.”

What can you do to encourage diverse thought in your organization? Build an environment in which employees feel comfortable expressing their perceptions openly and honestly. Encourage them to acknowledge and accept ideas and opinions that are different from their own. Now, that doesn’t mean that they have to agree; it means they have to listen and accept, to agree to disagree. At no time is it acceptable to infer that any employee should not be heard because of a variance in opinion.

Yes, it’s natural to have a knee-jerk reaction in disagreement and leaders should encourage employees to pause and listen when they hear a perspective different from their own. Taking a moment to consider the value of another opinion shifts the focus away from whether the opinion is similar to one’s own to whether it merits further consideration.

Tune in to the emotional information behind the words being spoken. Acknowledge the emotions and use them to connect and form a foundation for conversation, trust and mutual respect. Showing respect to the other person increases engagement and participation in the conversation and provides you with a full understanding of the other person’s view.

Tim Berners-Lee, the British Physicist and MIT professor credited for inventing the World Wide Web says it best. “We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.” FBN

Trish Rensink and Jamey Hasapis of the BelleWether Group bring over 20 years experience with Fortune 500 Companies inspiring businesses and business leaders to change what they do and become more successful; helping them navigate change, gain focus, define their direction, and develop highly effective teams. They can be reached at 928-853-8206.





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