Embracing Diversity – Part 1

First Take a Look at Your Inner Dialogue

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

Hello and welcome to the first of two articles on the subject of diversity. Diversity has appeared comparatively recently in professional settings but it hasdiversity as an acronym a long history when considering the political realm. Think of the apartheid period in South Africa: this was a struggle for diversity though this was not the terms in which the fight to end racial segregation was articulated. Diversity is also at the core of the US Civil Rights Movement.

This article is not meant as a history lesson so let me pause here. The diversity I would like to engage you about today is that which allows colleagues sharing the same workplace to both recognize and value their individual differences. These differences can be along the dimensions of, among others, race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, and religious or political beliefs, to name a few.

Diversity is a mindset of curiosity and exploration: the state of mind whereby one wonders about another person’s unique characteristics and the process which follows whereby the differences between two individuals are discussed in a non-judgmental fashion. In this article, I want to invite you to take an inner journey, one which looks at what we tell ourselves when we meet someone we perceive as different. A journey from fear to appreciation.

Your first step: starting from a place of fear

fearConsider the following questions:
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?

When I moved to the US to attend university there, I went to live in a city where I encountered more black folks than I had previously. I remember noticing feeling anxious. I was able to connect this anxiety to watching a lot of American 70s TV shows where the “bad guys” were systematically black. So, to use the questions above, I was physically afraid, I feared being mugged as I’d seen on TV. I had to admit to myself that those TV shows had unfairly biased my views. I felt rather ashamed. But this realization, connecting to the underlying cause of my anxiety, was also a liberating step.

–>  In short, facing your fear, in the privacy of your own thoughts, will start opening your mind.

Your second step: progressing to a position of wariness

Consider the following questions:
1. Might they view me negatively?
2. Might I get it wrong? Say or do the wrong thing?
3. How open and I honest can I be?

When we meet someone whom we view as different to us, whatever the nature of that difference, chances are that they too will see us as different. I 4.1.1have a strong opinion about how to handle that moment which I would like to share: honour that difference. For some, diversity has become associated with a denial of differences. And yet our differences, sometimes literally, stare us in the face. I therefore believe that the first step towards diversity is noticing differences and holding any resulting discomfort.

To continue the story of my university years, I met in a modern dance class a very gifted black dancer. By then, I knew better than to let my biases affect my attitude towards him: I had moved away from fear but another form of anxiety was present. I worried about his opinion of me. Would he have views about women, about blondes, about French people? Would he judge me and find me wanting? I wanted very much to have a chance to be partnered with him during a routine but I didn’t know how to approach him: I worried about a faux-pas. I wondered whether there was a right way, with which I was unfamiliar. These thoughts beset me and so I did nothing.

  –> In short, stay with the wariness: use it as a springboard to start strategizing how to connect.

Your third step: discovering tolerance

Consider the following questions:
1. What judgements am I making about this person and on what basis?
2. What boundaries am I applying to dealing with this person?

toleranceWhile I was no longer afraid of Avery, my fellow dance student, I was certainly feeling wary. So where to go next? How to move away from doing nothing and being silent? I examined my thoughts and took a good look at my worries – my worries about his view of me and my worries about approaching him inappropriately and embarrassing myself, if not the two of us.

As I was reflecting, I realized I meant well: I connected to my good intentions – the intention to make a friend, to share a dance, to have some fun. Gradually, my mindset started shifting to one of humility and connectedness. Yes I might make a fool of myself but I’d survive that. And what if I was transparent about my intention, simply showing that I’d welcome dancing together? I moved my thoughts away from judgements, which are unhelpful, rigid views stifling action, towards a flexible approach. I was able to ground myself, adopt a light-hearted self-respect and move towards Avery.

–> In short, when first practicing tolerance, make sure to be compassionate about yourself too.

Your fourth step: practicing acceptance

Consider the following questions:
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?

I could tell Avery was surprised. In the moment, my mind wanted to process his reaction and worry about it but I stayed with my smile and waited for acceptancehim to accept or decline my suggestion we dance together. Those were a few challenging seconds!

Avery accepted. He asked me how I liked to dance so I showed him a few moves, feeling horribly self-conscious. He commented: “not bad for a white girl” but he was grinning. Our dance routine became a number we would perform in an amateur show: as we rehearsed, we often disagreed, as our respective takes on performing in public, what cool moves to include and how to cope with stage fright diverged. But our shared enthusiasm enabled us to find a way forward each time. We often agreed to disagree. And we rehearsed endlessly.

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

Your final step: moving towards appreciation

Consider the following questions:
1. What can I learn from this person?
2. How could knowing this person in turn contribute to making me a more accomplished individual?

appreciationRemember the song “Ebony and Ivory” by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney? Well, that is not the tune Avery and I danced to (that was Madonna’s “Vogue”) but I learnt to feel the rhythm more deeply, as Avery naturally could. He in turn saw the benefit of my structured approach to choreography. To this day, I think of Avery when I dance and I honor the better dancer I was able to become because he came into my life.

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

There you have it: five steps along your inner path leading you from initial fear to grateful appreciation. Might this be relevant and helpful when you come across a colleague in whose presence you are not immediately comfortable? Do you feel you now have a process you can use to engage with some of your colleagues more deeply and really develop that collaboration? As usual, I’d love to hear your take on this article so feel free to comment below or just ping me an email by just clicking here.

In the follow-up article, I will take you on another journey: that whereby you move from an increasingly constructive inner dialogue as we’ve seen here to developing a dialogue with someone.

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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