Are You Contributing to a Tolerant Work Environment?
BY Kevin Daum
So many interpersonal challenges in the office are the result of intolerance. Here, Inc. columnists share ways to make the office a happier and more inclusive place.
Today, the country reflects on the tragedy of September 11, 2001, an extreme example of intolerance at its worst. But, even on a far less devastating scale, intolerance left to fester can foster fear, anger and paranoia. Some will use their intolerance as an excuse to hurt people, verbally or otherwise. Others will hide their intolerance, playing nice, but find other insidious ways to make people feel unwanted or hated.
Most people aren't intentionally mean and hurtful. Many times, they are simply self-centered, unaware that they are acting on their fears and emotions. Often their intolerance stems from ignorance about people that are different or misunderstood. Years ago, I made a conscious choice to work on my intolerance. I decided that there is something to learn from almost everyone. I now choose to actively learn about the people around me, making it my responsibility to understand and relate. Strange and unusual people are now a magnet for me. In fact, it's generally the people who initially make me uncomfortable that teach me the most about myself.
I encourage you to take some time to engage and learn about those who make you uncomfortable. Share your own story with them as well. Who knows? Together we may all become a little more tolerant.
Here are some additional good ideas from my Inc. colleagues for making your environment a little more open and accepting.
1. Help People Learn About Each Other
People often make judgments from a lack of knowledge and experience. If an individual has never had a positive personal experience with someone of the Muslim faith, for instance, they may be more inclined to judge based on a global event like 9/11. Create opportunities for employees to learn more about one another. You might invite an employee to share something about themselves at the top of each weekly staff meeting. Organize small committees, schedule luncheons and after-hour events, and provide opportunities for people from different departments to pair up on projects. Marla Tabaka--The Successful Soloist
Leaders send messages by their deeds and their words. If the leader is known to make intolerant comments, even about something as simple as which school the company prefers to hire its candidates from or which generation of workers they think are the most effective, the impact can be far-reaching. If the leader appears to be intolerant in one of those areas, how else is their decision-making tainted? I often see this kind of bias get in the way of a leader's ability to take their company to the next level. For example, their perception about a generation's work ethic causes them to discount some of their employees' worth and potential, which can foster an undercurrent of resentment. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward
Not seeing other people as people is what enables all intolerance. Tribal sentiment is hard-wired into us from prehistoric days--our instincts are to defend our own clan and view others as the enemy. The only way to overcome this tendency is by getting to know people across those barriers of race, class, education and so on. That's why a simple move like temporarily switching desks can have such a profound effect. We may all be cave dwellers at heart, but once we've allowed a member of another tribe inside our cave, we will never quite view that person as "other" again. Minda Zetlin--Start Me Up
I went to an alumni event for my Catholic high school not long ago, and I ran into our old vice principal. I'd remembered as a very stern man, enforcing the school uniform and other rules, but now he seemed loose and relaxed. I told him this was the first time I'd ever seen him smile. "Mr. Murphy," he said, "that was by design."
Take a tip from Catholic high schools, the U.S. military and coaches of sports teams the world over. To help your people overcome their differences and work together, give them something to work against--even if that something has to be you! Bill Murphy Jr.--DC Bill
The best, most immediate way to counter intolerance in the workplace is to bring in guest speakers from groups that have been the targets of intolerance and let them tell their often poignant and troubling stories. For example, schedule a Holocaust survivor to speak to your employees about his experience, or a lesbian couple to discuss the challenges they've encountered. Help your people see the world through the eyes of others--even if only for an hour or two. Peter Economy--The Management Guy