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Photo: iStock

How to work in a diverse team

Make sure your conversation is based on professional objectives, and doesn't become a personal attack

Diversity helps bring different perspectives to challenges. In her book How To Work With And Lead People Not Like You: Practical Solutions For Today’s Diverse Workplace, Kelly McDonald talks about ways to connect with colleagues who might not share your background, or vision.

The first thing, according to McDonald, is to break the ice by starting a conversation. When you are trying to connect with someone, listen to their experiences, perspectives and values. Else, ask for advice or for something to be explained. People find it flattering to be recognized for their expertise.

Second, focus on the person, not on how they are different from you. Often, we assume that because people are not like us, we won’t have much in common. Get to know more about the person. Ask questions. Remember that genuine interest leads to respect, and that, in turn, leads to trust.

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Your colleagues may have different values, but that need not hinder team functioning. An important step is to acknowledge these different values and the fact that you are trying your best to work as a team. If there is an issue or challenge at work, create a dialogue with your co-worker and ask them to explain the situation from their perspective. The dialogue is only to understand their perspective, not to prove right or wrong. You might want to identify the issue, obstacle or barrier that is hampering productivity.

Make sure your conversation is based on professional objectives, and doesn’t become a personal attack. The goal is to find a solution to the problem at hand. Try to arrive at common solutions through discussion. The approach will require not just courtesy, but respect. It would acknowledge the other person’s perspective without being critical or dismissive, and focus on finding a workable solution for everyone involved.

McDonald lists out some of the principles for working with someone you don’t like. 

First, understand that they are not trying to be difficult. Their behaviour may be a result of the way they have been socialized—the way they were raised, the influence of culture and the family framework. 

Being civil is an important part of any discussion, even if it is with someone you do not have much in common with. Stay professional, civil and diplomatic. This will ensure there is no escalation in tension.

Adjust your expectations. There is no point expecting others to behave the way you would. Accepting that the other person is a certain way will mean they are less likely to push your buttons. 

Agree to disagree. Share your opinions without being antagonistic. Be non-judgmental, not combative.

Try to aim for constructive conversation that allows you and your co-worker to work peacefully and more productively.

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