We're all aware of the current divide in the United States. It seems like there couldn't be a more dramatic difference in how people think or what they value. This growing divide, in combination with an increased diversity of thinking, underscores the importance of developing a new skill set: the ability to view differences as opportunities rather than obstacles.

New research provides compelling evidence that diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth. While we may consciously agree that it is important to embrace diversity, the problem is that the reality of doing so is harder than we think.

We're wired to value people and things that are most similar to us. This is what Else Frenkel-Brunswik realized back in 1949 and something which modern research reaffirms. At a very simple level, this means that as soon as there is a difference that is highlighted between you and another person, you're going to instinctively think of that person as an outsider. This is how our brains evolved to protect us from danger in the tribal days.

In modern times, however, a new approach is needed. In order to cultivate a new way of operating, you're going to have to rewire your brain. Here are 3 ways to get started:

1. Slow down and pause before saying anything.

When you are faced with an idea that is completely different from yours, pause. Rather than allowing your brain to jump to conclusions, notice the difference. Dwell on it and think through the implications before letting your instinct drive any negative behavior.

2. See the difference as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

As challenging as it may be, you have to start cultivating curiosity rather than jumping to judgment. Use empathy as a tool. Put yourself in their shoes and think about how it would feel for you to embrace their way of thinking or being. What would the challenges be? What can you learn from this person? Does this difference harm you in any way?

3. Move to acceptance.

The reality is that our world is becoming more diverse. Technology allows us to be connected well beyond what was possible 50 years ago, which means we engage with many more people and ideas than ever before. The ability to see differences as opportunities and move to acceptance is going to be one of the key skills for the future of work and the future of our ability to get along. Without this we will continue to fight and spin our wheels by trying to convince everyone to be just like us. Who wants that future anyway?

Published on: Jun 7, 2017