Managing Mutual Acceptance in Your Team
Do You Welcome the Differences of Others?
Out of discord comes the sweetest harmony.– Heraclitus
No two people think or act in exactly the same way. For this reason, when you bring any group of people together for the first time, you have the potential for misunderstanding and conflict. However, these differences can – when well managed – lead to better performance by individuals, teams and organizations.
Consider your own workplace for a moment. Are you fortunate enough to work somewhere that doesn't just accept people's differences but actively celebrates them? Or does it sometimes feel as if distrust and prejudice are part of the culture? The chances are your organization falls somewhere in the middle, and there may be room for improvement.
In this article, we'll explore why it's important to accept other people, and how you can encourage your team members to welcome diversity. We'll help you to identify when their behavior toward one another is unacceptable, and offer ways to support people in speaking up about it.
What Is Acceptance?
When you accept someone, you acknowledge and welcome him or her into your environment, regardless of whether you share his cultural values, characteristics or experiences. You see the differences between you as a simple fact, take him for who he is, and move forward together with your work.
To be accepting, you need to consciously practice understanding and empathy – the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes and see things from her perspective. This comes easily and naturally for some people. For others, it can be a challenge in situations that are uncomfortable or unfamiliar.
Why Does Acceptance Matter?
Acceptance is essential in the increasingly diverse and globalized workplaces of the 21st century. Team members will often differ in age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical ability, worldview, experience, religion, education, background, and many other aspects besides.
Organizations that welcome diversity can be more successful than more uniform ones. Diversity alone is not enough, however. In order to excel, people need to accept and welcome an array of viewpoints, ideas, traits, and backgrounds, and to encourage their colleagues to do the same.
Researchers have found that encouraging acceptance in the workplace can reap a number of rewards
- More open communication.
- Better team decision making.
- A creative, problem-solving and innovative spirit.
- Greater respect and trust.
- A more positive environment.
- More effective and productive teamwork.
- Less absenteeism.
- Greater loyalty among staff.
- A larger pool of talent to recruit from.
- Natural retention of valued people.
- Fewer stress-related conditions, like anxiety and depression.
- Staying on the right side of anti-discrimination laws.
Research has shown that rejecting diversity can impoverish teams. If you always hire the same types of people, you narrow your pool of potential recruits and make it harder to get good people into the organization. You could possibly damage your personal standing as a manager, too. If team members operate as a clique and make life difficult for others, they deny themselves the breadth of knowledge, experience and outlook that more varied teams and organizations have.
Identifying Unaccepting and Unacceptable Behaviors
Teams that don't accept diversity can be unstable, unhappy and unproductive, so it's important to be able to identify both unaccepting and unacceptable behaviors, and to tackle them before they spiral out of control.
Unaccepting behavior can be anything from behaving frostily toward someone or "blanking" them, to habitually dismissing their opinions. Unacceptable behavior can be more tricky to define, particularly when wider cultural issues come into play. For example, a team member might behave in a way that you think is wrong, but he may believe that this behavior is a part of his cultural practice.
So, how do you then arrive at a reasonable and objective conclusion about this behavior, and stand up for what you believe is right, while remaining culturally sympathetic?
Use this checklist to confidently and consistently assess whether a behavior is unaccepting or unacceptable, and to decide whether to support or correct it.
Does the behavior:
- Damage the organization or your team's mission or reputation?
- Undermine your team's cohesion?
- Break organizational rules, or is it dishonest or illegal?
- Negatively affect someone's work or relationships?
- Harm, disrupt or upset someone unnecessarily?
- Come across as rude, hostile or discourteous?
If you answer "yes" to any of these outcomes, then you need to respond firmly and quickly, before the unacceptable behavior can continue. Your response could range from an informal warning through to outright dismissal, or even to involving the police. When you decide to do this, consult with your Human Resources colleagues before you act, to ensure that your response is proportionate, appropriate and legal.
It's important to be familiar with your organization's policies on harassment and bullying. This will help you ensure that you're treating your team members fairly, and in accordance with the anti-discrimination laws of your particular region, state or country.
What Acceptance Looks Like
Here are some examples of understanding and acceptance in action.
Janet is a Christian. She respects the right and obligation of her direct report, Aamir, to pray five times a day in accordance with his Muslim faith. She avoids scheduling meetings for these times, and ensures that team members give him the space he needs. Aamir comes into work a little earlier each day to ensure that he covers his tasks.
Sam is from a small town in the southern United States, a region known for its relaxed business style. His boss, Mark, is from New York, which is known for doing business at a fast pace. The two have different working styles and expectations, but they try hard to accommodate one another. Mark accepts that, while Sam always meets his deadlines, he won't answer email during lunch or at weekends. Sam understands that Mark likes things done quickly, so he does his best to complete work early.
How to Manage Mutual Acceptance Within Your Team
All workplaces and individuals are different, so there's no "one-size-fits-all" approach to managing acceptance. There are, however, lots of good practices that you can adopt.
Encourage Your Team Members to Take an Interest in One Another
Encouraging your people to take an interest in one another's beliefs, behaviors and preferences can help improve their relationships. Offer them coaching in active and mindful listening skills so that they can appreciate other people.
"Labels" are very personal. For example, would a team member like to be referred to as "gay," "homosexual," or something else? As you get to know her and when you feel comfortable enough to do so, find out her preference.
Coach your team to recognize the business importance of respecting colleagues, and practice using the Perceptual Positions technique to explore different points of view. Your goal is to help your people be more empathic, and to be able to put themselves in others' shoes and see things from another's perspective.
Think About How Their Words Might Be Interpreted
Words have consequences, both good and bad. That's why it's important to think carefully before talking about sensitive subjects. Coach your people to think about who they're speaking to. Are they saying, or implying, anything that might offend someone? Is their message respectful and compassionate? If not, then it might be best for them to revise it, or to say nothing at all.
Help People to Understand Cultural Differences
Every culture has different values and worldviews, which can make it challenging at times to work together.
Encourage people to use Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner's Seven Dimensions of Culture to understand different cultures' preferences and values. Cross-Cultural Communication will also help them to communicate and collaborate more productively.
Show People How to Appreciate Different Working Styles
Not everyone works in the same way, but this doesn't mean that anyone is wrong!
It's easy to get frustrated when someone's working style is different to yours. Use psychometric tests like DiSC Model®, Myers-Briggs® Personality Testing, and the Big Five Personality Traits Model to help your team members appreciate their own, and other people's, characteristics and working styles, and to identify their strengths. This can help them to cooperate more effectively.
Diverse teams often require an active, "involved" management style. Because of the wider scale of knowledge, experience and opinion, you may need to allocate more time for helping people to work together, perhaps through teambuilding exercises, and for team discussions and decision making. You may need to allow time for occasional conflict resolution, too.
Be proactive in helping people to understand their differences and in building mutual trust. Fostering a collaborative and inclusive culture, where everyone feels that they can contribute, can help them to appreciate what they all have to offer.
Encourage Your People by Setting an Example
Your words and actions can influence others, so it's important to lead by example. Aim to be self-aware and manage your own biases, prejudices and stereotypes, so that you don't unintentionally favor people who you feel a close affinity with. Model the accepting, inclusive, welcoming attitudes and behaviors that you want to see your team members adopt.
Support Your Team in Tackling Unacceptable Behaviors
If people struggle to behave well towards colleagues, it's important to make it very clear to them that discrimination, bullying and poor behavior is fundamentally unacceptable. (It's also illegal in many parts of the world.) You need to address bad behavior at work quickly – before it negatively impacts your team and organization, and before you end up having to deal with a well-justified lawsuit.
Let people know that it's important to challenge behavior that they feel is unacceptable. Whether and how you, or they, speak up is a personal decision, so encourage them to use their best judgment. Invite them to approach you with their concerns and encourage them to be assertive when speaking up.
To accept someone is to respond to him favorably or positively, to acknowledge your differences, and to move on. You, your team and your organization can benefit when people view differences in a positive way.
Organizations that welcome diversity benefit from a larger pool of talent and a more positive working environment, and are less likely to break anti-discrimination laws.
To manage acceptance at work, encourage your team members to get to know and take an interest in one another, to think before they speak, and to make an effort to understand everyone's differences.
Behavior is unacceptable if it's hostile, discourteous, harms someone unnecessarily, damages your team or organization, or is dishonest or illegal.
It's important to learn where to draw the line when someone's behavior is not acceptable, however, and for people to know that it's important to speak up about it.
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