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When people ask me about my business, I say I work in the area of diversity and inclusion. The more accurate response is that I am in the business of increasing understanding of difference– of reducing the judgment that gets in the way of inclusivity.

Think of a person who initially rubbed you wrong. Later, as you understood that person better, he or she “grew on you.” For example, when I first met Tom, I judged some of his behaviors as odd and irritating. The more I worked with Tom, I got to know him; I learned something about his childhood and challenges he had dealt with. As I came to understand him and what made him think and operate as he did, I found things I admired and liked. I found more effective ways of working with him.

I use the metaphor of light and dark to describe this phenomenon, which works with groups of people as well as with individuals. Often our judgments about others come from lack of understanding, from mind sets rooted in our past experiences that may operate below the level of conscious awareness. We are in “darkness.” Understanding others dispels or reduces judgment—like light dispels or reduces darkness. It can bring unconscious judgments to conscious awareness. In the light of conscious awareness, there is choice.

Men sometimes judge women as being too emotional, having scattered thinking or lacking confidence. Women sometimes judge men as not being able to express their feelings, being too “linear” or acting like an expert on something when they are not. When we understand key differences in masculine and feminine ways of thinking and acting, and the roots of those differences, we can experience an “aha.” We can move from judgment to understanding these and other differences—and then to appreciating an approach different from our own.

Baby Boomers and members of Generation X sometimes judge Millennials as being “entitled,” needing an unrealistic amount of praise and lacking independence. Millennials sometimes judge older generations as having archaic views of “face time” and not giving enough feedback or making expectations clear. When we understand key differences among the four generations in today’s workplace, and why the generations are different, we can set aside judgment and look for ways to work together better.

I have written a book about the strengths of masculine and feminine approaches to work. I teach workshops on gender and generational differences. My purpose is to help people work effectively with both men and women and to lower misunderstandings between older and younger workers.  My greatest reward is in seeing the “lights” come on, seeing those “aha” moments when people begin to understand why someone, or some group, thinks differently than they do. I am seeing judgment being replaced with understanding. Understanding is the starting point. It enables people to appreciate difference and to commit to being more inclusive in their thinking and actions.

My goal is for the lights to stay on—for the “aha” moments to lead to lasting shifts in thoughts and action. I want increased understanding to lead to collective actions that support inclusiveness in workplace cultures. Leaders can create inclusive cultures by leveraging understanding of difference, keeping the conversation going, reinforcing the new awareness and commitments to change and insuring accountability for inclusive actions. I’m in the business of increasing understanding of difference so this happens!

When have you seen understanding reduce judgment? When have you seen understanding enable constructive action?