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Recognizing the Value of Differences

I’m in the people business. I seek to support others. With trainings, coaching, mediations and therapy, my role is often to acknowledge and appreciate differences of opinions, strengths, abilities and behaviors. In doing so, the values that each of us brings to the table are typically brought to light.

What I find fascinating is how frequently individual differences are looked at as “wrong”; how human nature leads us to attribute negative intentions to other’s behavior. Without a high level of insight and a strong resistance to impulsivity, our beliefs can and do turn into negative situations.

Can one learn to see differences differently?

Different, not “wrong”

Differences are often what mediations are made of. I have also seen the same issues in marital therapy sessions. When communication breaks down and assumptions are made, battles can ensue. In my mediator role, I have seen numerous incidences of people sitting down to talk about why a mediation was requested to the realization that differences are what lead to the disagreement. Because the parties were unable or unwilling to talk about their concerns, a breakdown occurs.

When people are given an opportunity to talk to one another in a safe and controlled environment, awareness begins. The awareness that I have witnessed can be both self-awareness as well as understanding the other. When individuals recognize their own unique contributions as well as those of others, conflict can be significantly reduced.

The impact of stress

Work can be stressful. We have deadlines to meet and responsibilities to uphold. As public servants, we have responsibility for people’s livelihoods and sometimes their lives themselves. It can be a heavy load to carry, yet it is our mission. On top of these grand responsibilities, home life can add to the stress we are under, even in uneventful times. Toss in a little challenge at the workplace or at home and the small things can become difficult to handle. Add a pandemic to the mix, and stress shifts to overload.

What tends to occur under times of significant stress is our individual personality characteristics take over. Our behavior becomes automatic and reactivity can kick in. A “quirk” that you have been able to successfully manage in normal circumstances suddenly becomes pronounced and ugly. As a result, our unique characteristics can turn into unsavory projectiles aimed at those around us.

Don’t react, reflect

Understanding the impact that stress can have on our behavior and that of others, what can one do?

The first step is to develop the ability to recognize the influence that stress has on your own behavior. Some ways that you can accomplish this is by journaling, getting feedback from a trusted source or taking a brief pause (count to 10) before saying anything. All three of these options will give you a chance to reflect on your feelings and thoughts before reacting impulsively.

Once you have taken a moment to reflect, you can enlist some stress management techniques to take control of anxiousness, frustration or anger. Simple stress management techniques can include taking a short walk, taking five deep breaths, or practicing “soft belly” (highlighted in “Survival Skills for the Government Employee”). Insight and self-awareness tied to calming techniques can mitigate unanticipated difficulties with others. Conversely, your willingness and ability to acknowledge that stress may be influencing the behavior of others can help you understand and empathize rather than battle. Instead of making assumptions about someone else’s behavior, ask. Having the courage to talk to someone who is exhibiting challenging behaviors could yield some insight into their circumstances and emotions.

Leveraging differences

When people stop judging, they can start appreciating. Once they start appreciating, they can begin to leverage. Once we can start leveraging unique skills, tremendous teams can be built. With tremendous teams, we can achieve great things. There is a reason that there has been movement towards the use of interdisciplinary teams. A high-functioning diverse team can yield excellent results. Tapping into the expertise of diverse members brings broad knowledge, skills and abilities to the table. When teams have more information, they make better decisions.

Give yourself, your colleagues and your family members the benefit of the doubt. Take a moment to listen to yourself, tune in to others and engage those different from you. The outcomes that are achieved may lead us to better places, together.

Kathleen Glow-Morgan is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a New York State Licensed Clinical Social Worker that has been employed by the Veterans Health Administration since 2008. She currently works as a National Transformational Coach Captain and Health Systems Specialist within the Office for Veterans Access to Care. Ms. Glow-Morgan is a Certified Alternate Dispute Resolution Mediator and a Certified Change Management Practitioner. Ms. Glow-Morgan has expertise in conflict management, communication strategies, coaching and change management. She has presented at numerous national conferences and workshops. 

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Avatar photo Nicole Blake Johnson

Thank you for this insightful post! The self-awareness piece and reflection really jumped out to me. I’ve been doing a lot more of that lately.