Embracing Diversity – Part 2

How to Create a Constructive Outer Dialogue

(click below to view the video or read on if you’d prefer!)

Hello and welcome to the second of two articles on the subject of diversity. In a preceding article, ladderwe went on an inner journey, one which looked at what we tell ourselves when we meet someone we perceive as different. That journey took us in five steps from a place of fear to one of appreciation. When we appreciate diversity, ours is a mindset of curiosity, whereby we are able to wonder about another person’s unique characteristics. When we appreciate diversity, we are able to consider the differences between us and them a non-judgmental fashion. If you missed this article, you can catch it up by clicking here.

In this companion article, we continue to look at diversity as that process which allows colleagues sharing the same workplace to both recognise and value their individual differences. We will revisit the inner dialogue we developed and complement it with elements of an outer conversation. These five steps are the rungs of the “diversity ladder”, a two-pronged methodology which combines looking at our inner thoughts and elaborating a possible dialogue with someone as we embrace diversity.

The first rung: starting from a place of fear

In the preceding article, we worked with questions to help you connect to what goes on in your mind when you meet someone who feels more different than they feel similar. For each step up the ladder, we will remind ourselves of these questions which reveal our inner state and use them as a springboard to construct the basis for a conversation with that different person. For instance:

Connect to your inner dialogue

Create an outer conversation

1.    What do I fear from this person?

2.    What might I be avoiding admitting to myself?

3.    What do I fear learning about myself?

1.    What concerns you about me?

2.    What’s that difference between us?

3.    Does it have to set us apart?

 At this stage, the crucial element is acknowledging the discomfort. When we meet someone who feels different to us, chances are we too will feel suspiciousdifferent to them. As such, both parties’ inner dialogue starts with fear. Fear of the other but also fear of discovering something about ourselves which we may feel less than proud about. But connecting to the underlying cause of your anxiety about someone new is a liberating step. Take it within but also with them: start a dialogue with that person and, shortly after the introduction and the social niceties, talk about the elephant in the room – that difference. The questions in the second column above are not meant to be used as is though I encourage you to retain their essence. By all means, adjust them to your context.

The important takeaway here is that acknowledging the difference you both see will start to diffuse the fear you both feel and represent the first step in a constructive dialogue. Stay silent and your fear will advise you to continue keeping mum; it will also tell you to walk away. In the short-term, that strategy will alleviate your fear but when you meet the person again, it is likely to ratchet up.

–> In short, acknowledge the fear you both feel and start diffusing your anxieties together.

The second rung: progressing to a position of wariness

Connect to your inner dialogue

Create an outer conversation

1.    Might they view me negatively?

2.    Might I get it wrong? Say/do the wrong thing?

3.    How open and I honest can I be?

1.    How might we be open with each other?

2.    How can we identify and discuss behaviours which make us uncomfortable?

It takes courage to approach someone different. But, after a smile, a handshake and a few opening words, you’ve developed the first bit of rapport. anxiousAt the previous rung, you did the hard part because you mentioned the difference between the two of you. Now both of you feel wary of one another, but that’s already better than being afraid and silent. When you don’t deny diversity, you can honour it.

At this juncture, take tentative, careful steps to explore that discomfort between you and define rules of engagement which will ensure you don’t rub one another the wrong way. Discuss ways of being which will be acceptable to both of you: co-create a shared reality which you can both inhabit together.

–> In short, assuage your wariness by creating a safe place for you to engage with one another.

The third rung: discovering tolerance

Connect to your inner dialogue

Create an outer conversation

1.    What judgements am I making about this person and on what basis?

2.    What boundaries am I applying to dealing with this person?

1.    What do we have in common?

2.    How we can co-exist/work together without friction?

3.    How can we remove blame from our conversations?

It’s taken a little while but you both now feel less uncomfortable around each other. UnityTime to explore the other side of the coin: what you have in common rather than what separates you. Don’t let biases, prejudices, stuff you think you know about this other person guide you: rather, ask open questions which will allow them to share without restraint. Eliminate judgment and assumptions. When you disagree, don’t blame: rather, continue to explore so that you both can gain understanding.

–> In short, practice tolerance by avoiding judging each other.

The fourth rung: practicing acceptance

Connect to your inner dialogue

Create an outer conversation

1.    Can I accept this person for who they are without being demanding?

2.    Can I accept the validity of their perspective, even when it differs from mine?

1.    What are your values?

2.    How do you apply them?

3.    What are our affinities?

4.    Where might we collaborate?

Agreeing to disagree is at the core of accepting someone different.  acceptingWhen we accept, we don’t need to agree, but rather to engage, discuss and share. We don’t need to be right, but rather to explore possibilities, discover new viewpoints, experiment with new ways of being and doing. Yes, what is not ours will feel unnatural, clunky at first. Prepare to feel self-conscious, possibly even embarrassed. Cultivate a shared enthusiasm to enable you to find a way forward together.

–>    In short, acceptance is not agreement but rather a shared commitment to move forward.

The fifth and final rung: moving towards appreciation

Connect to your inner dialogue

Create an outer conversation

1.    What can I learn from this person?

2.    How could knowing this person contribute to making me a more accomplished individual?

1.    What can we learn from each other?

2.    What can I assist you with?

3.    How may I complement you?

Acceptance is a great place but let me encourage you to climb one more step. Here let me invite you to pause and consider what you’ve learntA diverse group of young adults on a white background through this journey, on the inside and on the outside. What have you learnt about yourself? What have you learnt about human beings from your interaction with this different person? What will you take with you into future encounters?

What do you think the other person learnt? Where have you arrived together? What is now possible for each of you that wasn’t before? How are you together? Have you find a way of making that difference between you something which allows the two of you to complement one another?

–> At last, with appreciation comes the opportunity for new learning so broaden your horizons!

There you have it: five steps to start imagining a constructive dialogue with someone different. Acknowledging fear and bearing the discomfort from weariness, it is possible to create a space between the two of you where you discover tolerance first, then learn acceptance and finally realise how much you’ve learnt from this transformational experience. Does that sound like something you’d like to have a go with? I know it will feel rough at times but remember: no pain, no gain!

If this article resonated with you, don’t hesitate to contact me for a chat where we would explore what is going on for you and what you would like to have happen. To contact me, click here.

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