Differences can be the source of judgment, misunderstanding, and tension. Awareness, followed by understanding, can break through all of that. Understanding extinguishes judgment like the light extinguishes darkness.
Think of someone whose style or approach you initially disliked. For example, Samantha, whose office is near yours, gets a lot of input before making a decision and sometimes processes her thoughts out loud. This used to drive you crazy. Then you got to know her and understand why she approached things as she did. This understanding likely reduced your judgment. You could begin to see ways to work with Samantha and even to appreciate the strengths in her approach (for example, you recognized the value of slowing down and processing complex problems more deliberately).
Understanding enables appreciation. If you appreciate an approach that is different from your own, you can leverage it. To leverage difference is to use difference to accomplish results that are not possible without difference – just as a lever enables me to lift a weight I could not lift on my own power. Leveraging difference enables me to get results I cannot achieve either alone or with others who are all similar to me (in terms of style and thinking).
This sequence – awareness, understanding, appreciation, and leveraging – works with both individuals and groups or categories of people. Replace Samantha in the example above with women, men, Millennials, or some group that is different from you. If you are perplexed or judgmental as you work with people in any such group, make understanding your starting point.
In my book, Difference Works: Improving Retention, Productivity and Profitability through Inclusion, I focus on understanding and appreciating differences in masculine and feminine approaches. I do that because (a) being a female executive in the beer business enabled me to understand this point of difference and (b) growing research shows a link between bottom-line results and gender diversity. By learning to appreciate and leverage both masculine and feminine approaches, leaders will develop “muscles” that will enable them to appreciate other forms of difference and drive business results even further.
When have you moved from judgment to appreciation?
Adapted from Difference Works, Chapter 1.