Navigating our differences in the workplace is not easy. Learning to recognize and appreciate our diversity is even harder – especially when employees have few outlets to display their true selves at work.
A Harvard Business Review piece published in March explored this very idea with black women in the workplace. “A lot of women told me that they code-switched,” wrote author Maura Cheeks, “which involves embracing the dominant culture or vernacular among certain groups (like co-workers, for example) and switching to a more authentic self when around friends and family.”
How can companies create space for colleagues to unmask and discuss their unique experiences and differences?
At first, some are skeptical of the role literature can play in corporate settings. After all, a novel (or short story or play) can take a long time to make even a single point about human experience. In Hamlet, for example, Shakespeare expends 30,000 words to provide a window on the pitfalls of decision-making. Wouldn’t a short article (or even a PowerPoint presentation) more efficiently summarize the salient factors that produce good or bad decisions for work teams? But what might we miss?
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation on the importance of social interactions in the workplace at the International Conference & Exposition of the Association of Training and Development in Atlanta. Over four days, 10,000 attendees chose from 400 presentations on a broad array of topics.
In a session on culture, Joseph Grenny, author and co-founder of the social science research firm VitalSmarts, asserted simply: “The health of a relationship, team or organization is a function of the average time lag between identifying and discussing problems.”
We’ve all worked with someone who excels at finding all the things an organization does wrong. Maybe we’ve even found ourselves doing it too. Identifying problems is easy. Talking about them? Not so much.
In a recent post, I explored the subject of listening as understanding, and ever since I have had a heightened awareness of talking and listening in the public space – and, more importantly, in my own social interactions. The current public discourse displays a flood of talking and a drought of listening, but I have been surprised at how much private discourse (including my own) suffers from the same conversational excesses. We seem to listen so poorly, in fact, that we no longer notice how little genuine dialogue is happening. If listening does lead to the “miracle of understanding” described in my earlier post, how do Books@Work discussions make that miracle happen?
Imagine yourself on an operating table. It’s a routine procedure, but you have to get it done. You choose the best doctor and the best hospital and you trust the system to deliver perfect care. It’s the last procedure of the day and the – very human – doctor is tired. But you’re comforted by the nurses and other healthcare professionals in the room: the system will protect you.
Or will it?
We widely accept the idea that collaboration and collegiality are critical workplace attributes, and that the most effective teams are the ones that get along well. But research shows that diverse teams are more productive. With diversity often comes widely different points of view.
Disagreement and differing perspectives are a fundamental characteristic of any team or group – but how does the way we disagree distinguish high-performing groups from others?