My wife and I were invited to a party to celebrate the beginning of the New Year. On the face of it, it was a pretty homogeneous crowd. There was little racial, ethnic, or cultural diversity to be found. But talking to my fellow guests revealed a great difference in our views and beliefs regarding subjects such as schooling, the economy, politics, etc.
The issue of diversity has become an important topic that has arisen in response to a culture that reflects a single set of values to which many people cannot relate. One solution, Diversity Training, is most often focused on the issues of race, language, values, ethnicity, and culture. While these issues are extremely important, too often one type of diversity, psychological diversity, is ignored.
Psychological diversity reflects the differences between people that are based in the way they view the world. Despite almost identical cultural backgrounds, my wife and I run into this reality on a daily basis. We see the world and approach things differently. What I view as a simple request for information (“Did you pick up the dry cleaning?”), she hears as criticism. On the other hand, her subtle communications are lost on my desire for a direct approach.
My company’s research shows that psychological diversity is hard wired, not readily changeable, and not overtly apparent as are many other types of diversity. It is sometimes difficult to get people to understand that not everyone sees the world in the same way.
Too often we assume that everyone pretty much perceives the world, and reality, as we do. Research implies that not only is that not true, but that innate filters within our perception block us from seeing a great deal of “reality” and that there are different filters that block different aspects of the world.
When my wife and I stop to untangle a communication that has gone crosswise, it is always amazing to both of us how far apart what was intended and what was heard can be. This is true for communications in both directions.
Without an understanding of how differently others perceive the world, many behaviors, actions, views, and approaches to life make no sense. While this can cause all sorts of problems, effective leaders understand psychological diversity and adapt their behavior accordingly. They know that psychological diversity adds creative tension, variety, and challenge to life.
Trying to impose your view on others is not what leadership is about. Rather than trying to persuade others to accept your viewpoint, the next time you need to lead a group of diverse people, take a step back and reflect on the value found in the differences. You might surprise yourself by gaining an appreciation for the diversity they bring!
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