Organizations contain diverse groups of people. Whether that diversity manifests, in race, sexuality, ability status, or another identity, doesn’t matter. Difference and diversity creates a unique opportunity for growth and creativity. Every single person brings with them a diversity of experiences, and those experiences affect how someone thinks, communicates, and problem solves. Navigating these different identities can be tough, especially for leadership teams. But the biggest mistake you can make is failing to acknowledge and embrace differences–ignoring the tension it might be causing.
The workplace is not a utopia, but it can be a safe and supportive environment where all employees succeed. The lack of homogeneity intrinsically breeds conflict. It is normal for teams or groups of employees to argue or disagree. Without these differences in ideas, and values, organizations would not innovate or grow, as everyone would be content with remaining as they are. Diversity and inclusion, when embraced, challenges us to think outside of the box. It provides a number of different solutions to a problem, a variety of marketing strategies, varied communication styles, and more. But if your organization lacks a mentality of empathy and trust in each other, then these differences will lead to communication and transparency issues.
The trick is to not ignore or shy away from dealing with culture clash or tension. In today’s social media driven world it’s nearly impossible to ignore the many different ways people live their lives. Employees showcase their out-of-office life online, which can lead to a disapproving coworker viewing their content. This disapproval will feed into the workplace, and can create a hostile workplace. Being aware of these attitude shifts, as someone in a leadership position, is imperative to solving the problem. But so many organizations choose to take on apolitical and areligious approaches.
In order to resolve the hostility, and any negative feelings attached to these different identities, leaders need to build an inclusive organizational culture, rooted in trust. Trust fosters innovation and increases morale and safety, yet most organizations have a severe “trust gap” that leads marginalized groups to feel undervalued. When conflict is a result of diversity, it’s usually an issue of frustration or misunderstanding. As a leader, instilling trust and transparency within your team reduces the risk of conflict based on diversity. Instead, it harbors feelings of “I know you will do a great job at this project, even if I don’t understand your process”. Trust also encourages openness as opposed to defensiveness. When you trust that your coworker has good intentions, you don’t feel threatened by their actions or words. Instead, these interactions become opportunities to learn new ways of thinking, or about new cultures.
Having workplace conflict is healthy and normal, how you deal with it is what’s of importance. At TMI, we offer a number of trainings to help build camaraderie, trust, and empathy within an organization. The main focus being celebrating and respecting diversity, while reaping the benefits. In order to do that you need to see and acknowledge the diverse populations within your organization and address any potential conflicts that could arise. Conflicts are a chance for education and growth. Don’t be afraid of facing them head on, and don’t be surprised when more conflicts come up. There will always be room to grow, and the continuous evolution of your employees and organization will naturally create problems. Embrace the journey.