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Diversity and Difficult Conversations

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Diversity and Difficult Conversations

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James Woodeson

Coach, Supervisor & Programmes

Diversity brings difference. Difference brings innovation. Innovation brings improved outcomes.

How difficult could that be?

Yet, how we each experience difference and relate with it, in opinion, experience, relationship and any other dimension, is what often makes or breaks the chain toward constructive and successful change.

What happens when we engage in talking about the difficulties, challenges and frustrations with diversity? An acknowledgement of the opportunities to learn from and with difference and the difficulty that sometimes involves.

An example comes to mind. A lightbulb moment for a person within a diverse team.

It took place during a workshop we were facilitating on “Difficult conversations and trust”. With genuine awe in their eyes and body, one member of the group reflected at the end of the session how they had become newly aware of a phenomenon which had never occurred to them.

Simply put, this is that each person has a unique experience of what “aggressive” means in communication. For this person, the bar is very high (they used a hand and held it up towards the top of their head) and for others, it can be very low (the hand moved down considerably).

This piece of awareness was in their blindspot. It emerged in dialogue with others who were exploring the difference between submissiveness and aggression in communication. This left the person with a newfound sense of curiosity about how they might be experienced in negotiations and business situations where they are driving for a particularly important outcome.

If you consider yourself to be particularly reflective or submissive in your style, how do you imagine you would experience this person in a business context? A great colleague? A challenging colleague? If you have a different opinion to this person, how would you go about being heard?

This is diversity as a way of being. A deeper and unseeable diversity learned and adopted. Often, we see how this can create win-lose outcomes, when in contact with other people with a different learned way of being. These are strategies that have been learned to provide the best possible outcomes in the different environments where these different people have grown-up in.

That’s not to say that those strategies are successful now. They were back there and then as creative adjustments to fit into the environment. Becoming part of our way of being. These can also be extended to include other ways of being, as we mature, learn and experience difference and diversity in the broader environment as our worlds expand as we get older.

With increased awareness, it is possible this person will shift from good to great outcomes, as they start to add an increased curiosity about their counterpart, stakeholder or any significant “other”. This is a shift to integrate relational outcomes with task outcomes. Thereby getting the benefits that diversity offers.

Sometimes, this requires a difficult conversation or dialogue about difference, rather than simply trading in different opinions or perspectives.

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