By the
Mind Tools
Editorial Team

Tolerance in the Workplace

Respecting Others' Differences

Mixed Fruit

© Veer

Learn to mix with all types of people.

What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly – that is the first law of nature. – Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), French Writer

Bob has worked for his organization for many years. He has lots of hard-won, practical experience, and he has a specific, preferred way of doing his job.

His new manager, Janisha, is straight out of business school. She has an advanced degree and a fast-paced style, and is keen to improve the way that things are done.

Although Bob and Janisha try to get along, they're becoming increasingly intolerant of one another. Bob resents Janisha's desire to change the way he works. It frustrates Janisha that Bob won't adopt certain new technologies, such as the organization's instant messaging program, to speed up his work. Because of this, they avoid each other as much as possible.

If Bob and Janisha tried to find common ground, instead of being intolerant of one another's working styles, they could build a relationship of trust and mutual respect, instead of their current, strained one.

21st-century workplaces are often filled with people from different backgrounds, ages, races, sexual orientation, viewpoints, and religions. To work well together, it's essential that team members embrace these differences with respect and compassion. However, you also need to know where to draw the line with some behaviors.

In this article, we'll look at tolerance in the workplace: what it means, how to handle intolerance, and how to tell what shouldn't be tolerated.

What is Tolerance?

Robert Green Ingersoll, a 19th-century American politician, once said, "Tolerance is giving to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself." The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines tolerance as "a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry."

Put simply, tolerance means keeping an open mind when interacting with others who are different from you, and treating everyone with respect and compassion, even when you don't share their opinions or values. It means embracing differences and recognizing that these differences help to make our world such a rich, diverse, and exciting place.

These differences can include race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, philosophy, values, physical abilities, and age. There might also be differences in viewpoints, family obligations, background, dress, work practices, political beliefs, attitude, education, and class.

Why Tolerance is Important

Human beings aren't born intolerant. If you watch young children playing in a schoolyard, they care nothing for the color of someone's skin, their gender, or the way that they're dressed. They see nothing other than a playmate.

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Often, as we get older, we're taught to embrace the differences around us. For some, however, these differences may begin to challenge a sense of "safety." People often relate easily to those who are similar to themselves, but they may struggle with those who are different.

No matter how different someone else may seem, the reality is that we all share the common bond of humanity. Our emotions and life experiences bind us together, and we often have far more in common with one another than we might think.

This is why tolerance is so important. When we have an attitude of inclusion, a world of possibilities can open up.

Tolerance encourages open and honest communication, promotes creativity and innovation, fosters respect and trust, improves team work and cooperation, and encourages good work relationships. It also enhances cooperation, loyalty, and productivity – all of which are highly important in the workplace!

What Tolerance Looks Like

Tolerance in the workplace can exist in many different ways, both large and small.

  • Janet is a Christian. She respects the right and obligation that her direct report, Aamir, has to pray five times daily in accordance with his Muslim faith. She avoids scheduling meetings during these times, and makes sure that everyone on the team understands that when he closes his door, Aamir shouldn't be disturbed.
  • Sam is from a small town in the southern United States, a region known for its slow, unhurried business style. His new boss, Mark, is from New York City, which is known for doing business at the speed of light. Although the two have dramatically different working styles and expectations, they try hard to accommodate one another. Mark accepts that while Sam will always meet his deadlines, he won't answer email at night, during lunch, or on weekends. Sam understands that Mark likes things done as quickly as possible, so he does his best to get his work done before it's due.

Put simply, whenever you demonstrate understanding, empathy, and respect to someone different from you, you're practicing tolerance.

How to Encourage Tolerance in Your Team

You can do many things to encourage tolerance in your workplace...

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