diversity_graphicby special guest blogger M. Wayne Puckett, D. M.

What’s all the fuss about diversity anyway?  Most of us fancy ourselves as open and tolerant for the most part. We all have boundaries though and when something breaches our limits of tolerance, we may feel put out,  offended, angry, and just plain wronged.  Most of us don’t think much about how narrowly focused and tightly wound our worldview becomes as we grow the list of things we won’t tolerate.

While there is nothing wrong with establishing personal boundaries, making sense of our world, and seeking to maintain internal tranquility, what happens when we lose perspective of the meaning of everything outside our personal bubble?  What happens to all of the stuff we choose to edit out of our neatly ordered, well maintained, and selectively constructed mind-set? When we become closed to what is new, changed,  or different, we stagnate like the air in an old refrigerator and suffocate like a mouse trapped inside of it. When it comes to diversity and being open to what is unfamiliar or uncomfortable we need to wonder - What difference do differences make?

The key theme today is “awareness.”  First, understand what is in your bubble and how it got there.  Expand your reflective thinking to consider your perceptions, biases, and assumptions about others.  Then, (this is where the paper cut starts to sting) consider how these perceptions, biases, and assumptions influence your behaviors towards people who are different. If you are honest with yourself, you will begin to see how some of the things you can’t stand - unlike someone talking on their cell phone during a movie, that’s just rude - have no rational basis whatsoever.

Next, broaden your horizon about inclusion and the different forms of diversity that exist within a given organization.  You may be surprised at how many things are left outside the bubble of tolerance.  We all know about the obvious categories of diversity such as race, religion, gender, age, disabilities, and sexual orientation. But, how often do we unconsciously express intolerance of others because of say their military status?    And what about those educated people with their fancy degrees, talk about high maintenance!  While we’re at it, what do you think about those guys who have been around a long time and think they are entitled to first consideration in everything?  How about those sales people if you’re in operations or those warehouse workers if you’re a driver - where do they get off?  Get the picture?  The writing on the proverbial wall can be enlightening, but you have to stop staring at the shadows long enough to turn and see it behind you.  Starting with your own reflection of how your internal processes may have been on auto pilot or unwittingly perpetuated a narrow perspective of who’s worthy and who’s not, take stock in your environment and gauge how best to operate within your organization’s culture.

For many managers, this means doing battle on a daily basis to maintain a balance between entrenched doctrines and emerging views that suggest differences do (and should) make a difference.  Where do you go from here?  Well, if you sip the kool-aid offered to the others, you will see the value of everyone’s uniqueness and find ways to tap it as a rich asset that can further underwrite your success…and, who knows, you might even end up a better person.

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