Work Has Gotten More Diverse. No Duh!
Have you noticed how diverse our work lives have gotten lately? Not so much at the top of organizations–we still have a long way to go there–but in terms of getting actual work done, most of us are dealing with quite a bit of diversity. Have you worked on a ‘virtual team’ with people in other countries? Does your company have global customers? Do you have to deal with other generations in your office? Is your company part of a global conglomerate?
Age, gender, religion, country, neighborhood, state, region, race. All of it contributes to the work of work. We are most comfortable with people like us. Even those of us who think of ourselves as diversity-gurus are more comfortable with people like us. Back in the caveman days when we all lived in the same cave for all of our lives, that was OK. Now it is absolutely necessary that we come out of our comfort zone and learn to work together, learn together, and yes, even enjoy each other.
Even when we don’t venture outside of our own groups, there are enough issues that cause problems. The things that we believe about ‘the way it should be’ come from our own thinking patterns, our values, our family input, the norms within our community, and the regional influences. When we stay within our own community, we have conflict among each other (think your extended family Thanksgiving or the last family wedding your attended). We disagree about what is right and how to decide that. We disagree about what is important, how to raise children, politics, food, neatness. You name it, we can disagree about it.
As you add more individuals, more families, more communities, it gets more and more complex. The things we care about are the same, but the ways in which we think about them are different. Different cultures have fundamentally different ways at thinking about:
- Communication (directness v. indirectness)
- Individualism v. communitarianism
- Emotional display
When you throw those complexities into the workplace, we’re all out of our comfort zone. That’s not going to change. So, we need to work to get to know each other. We need to really learn to understand these differences and appreciate them. We need to come out of the “I’m right and you’re wrong” automatic response that our brains do without our even thinking about it and adopt a more reasoned approach to appreciating the complexity of human interaction.
A Great Book That Will Help
One of the best books to help understand the differences across cultures (and oh, by the way, why you think the way you do) is Riding the Waves of Culture by Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner.