Intellectually, it’s easy to promote the value of diversity in our organizations. We endlessly proclaim pithy sayings about the added benefit of a diverse and varied constituency of employees, espousing the importance of mixing genders, races, generations, and lifestyles. In our minds, we “get it,” and for good reason — it seems almost self-evident that a variety of perspectives makes our collective decisions stronger.

But in practice, leveraging the obvious benefits of diversity is, well… really hard. We “understand” how important it is, but many (if not most) organizations aren’t truly capitalizing on a diverse workforce as powerfully as they’d like to be.

Why is this?

The dirty secret of diversity is that the problem starts with ME, not “them.” What I mean is that leveraging diversity isn’t about all the “different people” around me nearly as much as it is about ME — and the way I see those other people.

Whether we realize it or not, we define ourselves as “normal.” Before you scoff, consider this: our default state is to think other people like what we like, and further, that they SHOULD like what we like. We do the same thing with things we don’t like.

For example, if we love strategy or details or collaborating, we think other people should love those things, too. If we hate spreadsheets or sitting in meetings or filling out forms, our default state is to think other people should hate those things, too.

But both those statements are total lies.

There are people who unequivocally love to do the same exact things I hate to do. And there are people who completely abhor the things I enjoy. Until we get past the lie that other people like the same things we do, we can’t really leverage diversity because deep down, we don’t authentically appreciate it.

This is where Energy Intelligence can help. When we look through the lens of what energizes or drains people, we build a more psychologically safe space to learn and dialogue about our differences. Talking about what energizes me (or doesn’t) feels much easier than talking about what I’m “good at” (Self says: “You’re an egomaniac!”) or “bad at” (Self says: “I feel threatened!”), for example.

That said, accepting that others truly enjoy an activity we don’t is admittedly strange. It’s much easier to picture the world as if everyone else is looking through the same “lenses” we are. In fact, statements from this mistaken worldview spill out of our lips on a regular basis.

“If those other people would just call me back when they said they would…!”

“If those other people would just think through their decisions…!”

“If those other people would not be so stuck in the details…!”

As difficult as it can be to work with others’ differences, of course it’s usually the same exact stuff that drives us crazy that’s at the core of “leveraging diversity.” When we understand our differences as something that energizes them, but drains me, it makes things easier — because it re-frames our differences in positive, appreciative, and constructive terms.

Here’s how to get started:

1) Go deeper with diversity

What we typically think of as “diversity” is important — AND we can take it deeper. People that look very different on the outside might actually have very similar activities that energize or drain them. Start talking about the energizers underneath and watch the resourceful conversations bloom.

2) Embrace our own energizers

Each one of us has a completely unique set ofenergizers and drainers. Perhaps counter-intuitively, for us to truly value what other people bring, we must first be crystal clear about what value OUR energizers bring to the team. We can’t authentically appreciate the differing perspectives of others if we constantly feel threatened or insecure about our own viewpoint.

3) Practice being vulnerable

There’s no way around it; leveraging diversity really IS hard. It involves deliberately overriding the “my way is normal” bias we all have and practicing seeing the world from a perspective that isn’t natural or comfortable. However we get there, though, without an authentic willingness to try on somebody else’s viewpoint, our efforts to leverage the amazing power of diversity will continue to fall flat.

2 Comments

  • I found Josh’s brief article to be an interesting take on diversity in the workplace. Focusing on what energizes each of us and learning to celebrate those differences instead of wanting others to think or feel like we do can bring harmony and productivity to the work environment. I don’t think it’s just thinking about WHAT we do that energizes us, but also HOW we do things. For example, some people may prefer the structure of an eight hour day, five days a week, whereas others might prefer to work less a less structured schedule, working some evenings and weekends and taking time off during the “normal” eight hour workday. With all that said, I think larger societal influences like institutional racism, sexism, and religious and ethnic biases need to be discussed and actively and openly addressed in order to attract a truly diverse workplace.

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