"Strength lies in differences, not in similarities." Stephen Covey
When I moved to London from my home town in Scotland many moons ago, I spoke with a thick accent that was solidly based on our local language.
"I didnae talk like awe these posh folks doon in London."
To my Scottish father the English were all Sassenachs, foreigners, and I was told never to come home with one.
That didn't work out so well as I married and divorced an Englishman!
When I arrived in London it was pretty clear that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I would need to change my speech patterns to be accepted.
I would have to pronounce my words properly and pay attention to how people responded.
It goes without saying that we are all different. We have distinctive ways of speaking and varying values and beliefs we bring to our work and lives.
And when we remain open and receptive to these differences, we discover the magic of connection.
Learning to understand one another is a critical part of building a conscious workplace that honors everyone no matter how different they are.
Fear stops people from stepping out of their comfort zone.
The fear of looking foolish. The fear of misunderstanding. The fear of being ignorant. The fear that you will be rejected. The fear of humiliation.
There are many ways we cling to the idea that my way is best because our world view is challenged when we reach outside our comfort zone.
I have lived on three continents: Europe, North America, and Asia.
Each time I moved to a different country I had to learn the language (French and Indonesian),and the customs of the people.
Language is tricky. Saying you are 'plein' or full after a meal indicates you're pregnant and raised some eyebrows. Our host told me the polite word for satisfied was 'rassasier'.
A stranger in a strange land has been a repeated experience.
With every transition I had to open myself up to understanding the culture and climate which led to some awkward moments.
How many times do you air kiss someone in France? When you pull back after the second one, and they come for a third, you feel a little awkward to say the least!
Walk into an Indonesian home with your shoes on and you will quickly realize the faux pas!
Have you encountered this way of thinking?
- "My way or the highway."
- "I know their way but my way is better."
- "There is my way, and there is their way."
- How about, "there is our way."
The first is 'me centric'.
The second might be slightly better but still revolves around the individual.
The third acknowledges that we can agree to disagree.
And the fourth acknowledges we can be open and curious, allowing differences to inform a point of view.
In the business world there is a lot of discussion about company culture and the need for diversity. But what we are really talking about is inclusion and equity.
A longer discussion that my friend and colleague Gena Cox, Ph.D. Inclusive organizations describes in her excellent book Leading Inclusion.
It's not complicated.
When you accept people for who they are, and are willing to embrace your differences there are multiple ways to connect with each other.
The best way is never one way, or my way, or their way. There is our way. A way to remain open to learning about differences.
Admitting there are more things you don't know is a start.
No one has all the answers and by being open and curious you can fully embrace getting to know yourself and your relationship with others who are different from you.
Start today. Reach out to someone who is not like you and get to know them. Allow for awkward moments, ask for help, admit you don't know, and allow the differences to help you connect meaningfully.