Diversity has often been described as both the beauty and the test of human civilization. By fostering inclusion, we can celebrate the uniqueness of every person and create and a more beautiful workplace, community, and world. Inclusion will create unity and give everyone a voice. Inclusion begins as we Recognize, Respect, and Reconcile differences.
This article focuses on the third R: Reconcile.
The final stage of the 3Rs framework, Reconciliation, helps us blend the intellectual and emotional knowledge from the first two steps together to make better decisions. Reconciliation means bringing different cultures into harmony in a way that allows all involved to work toward a common objective. This stage requires a great deal of empathy, but it is possible for anyone to master. To effectively reconcile, we will need to solicit uncommon information, leverage it into innovative ideas, and avoid the “not-invented-here” syndrome.
Obtaining Uncommon Information
Uncommon information is any information that is not available to all decision makers. It can be special skills or relationships, intelligence, experience, or even restricted data. For any given task, different members of the group are likely to have some of this uncommon information. Everyone has some little tidbit that only they know. The key to making group decisions is to share all of that uncommon information—to make those secret tidbits common, shared, and known.
For example, let’s go back to high school history class. You are assigned to write an essay on the importance of the Battle of Britain with a group of classmates. You may be wondering—how anyone could have uncommon information if you’ve all been falling asleep during the same lectures? Well, your analytically-minded friend may have absent-mindedly memorized all the important dates and facts, the artsy kid can write it all in poetic verse, and the teacher’s pet can schmooze hard and figure out exactly what key points the teacher wants to see in your paper. Soon enough, you’re rocking an A on a paper that you would have gotten a B- on by yourself. Instead of just dividing up the work, you brought out your group’s knowledge and skills in a way that maximized efficiency and power. In fact, social psychologists have found that the “best option” (in school papers and in business alike) is most often only found by combining the small component pieces of uncommon information spread out among group members. The key is to be able to effectively pull this information from the group; a task that often requires reconciling cultural differences.
Leveraging Uncommon Information
With access to the data, each team member will unconsciously process it through the methods they learned in their native culture. This ensures that your team processes all the information in as many ways as possible. Then, the group must leverage those ideas into innovation. Leveraging is the process of synthesizing all of the collective ideas into the best possible alternative. As a team leader or member, it is imperative to ensure that everyone hears every idea. Not only will this foster a unifying bond, but it will also bring more—and better—ideas to light. Then, equipped with a broader well of ideas, the team can move forward with the best possible option.
This process of leveraging uncommon information is how we reconcile cultural differences: we take the best ideas from each cultural background and harmonize them. Through recognition we gain understanding and through respect we gain empathy, but it is not until the reconciliation phase that we begin coalescing cultures for a greater purpose. It is here that we use the diversity of thought inherent in our different cultural backgrounds to bridge gaps and come together behind a unifying idea.
Overcoming the NIH Syndrome
Not-invented-here syndrome (NIH), is the term used for the resistance that may arise to ideas from culturally different groups within an organization. It can be a serious stumbling block to continual innovation within organizations. The main symptom of NIH is simply doing things the way they have always been done, without regard to new ideas. You may say, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but that mentality will thwart the innovation possible through diversity—just because it “ain’t broke” doesn’t mean it’s the best! The reconciliation phase helps us overcome NIH by creating a shared understanding of what needs to happen. This allows everyone to focus on a unified end goal and not be bogged down by potentially outdated—but familiar and comfortable—ideas.
Putting Reconciliation Into Action
Consider the following real-life story among a culturally diverse team of managers from a national bank, paraphrased for the purposes of this example.
As the team was reviewing its decision-making process one of the managers said, “I think we’ve been very good. We listen to everyone. We always make sure we ask whether anyone disagrees with where we’re going.” Another manager concurred. “I think you’re right. We get all the right ideas out from everyone, right gang?”
After a few minutes of self-congratulation, one Korean woman cleared her throat and tentatively raised her hand. She took a deep breath and said, “Not one of you understands how hard it is for me to talk in meetings with you. I have to rehearse everything I’m going to say fifteen times in my mind, and half the time before I say my piece you’ve already moved beyond the point and my information doesn’t get considered. What frustrates me most is that the team isn’t getting my best ideas—the ones that could make a difference.” In the silence that followed, one of the men quietly said that, as an Indonesian, he felt the same way.
So, what could be done to reconcile the issue? The first two steps of the 3Rs framework (recognition and respect) are, of course, imperative. Before an effective change can occur, the managers need to understand their coworkers’ culture and empathize with them.
First, they must recognize that the difference in comfort speaking up in meetings is cultural. Managers will be tempted to say, “sometimes I feel that way, too—” which is tantamount to saying, “get over it.” This is unhelpful and will further stifle their colleagues. The managers must understand that the individuals of a different culture don’t need to be assimilated into the managers’ culture; they need to be allowed to speak up in the way in which they are culturally accustomed.
This is where the respect phase kicks in. The managers must now decenter. This process will show them the usefulness of taking time to really think through a response before speaking. Then managers must recenter and find common ground. They could do this by modifying the preexisting meeting to make sure that everyone has a real chance to speak their mind. This would bring to light the valuable uncommon information held by each individual team member. Bearing in mind the team’s common goals, the manager can then lead everyone in avoiding the NIH syndrome—the Korean woman, for example, may well have an idea that’s helpful to the team, but uncomfortable to the majority culture. Only by overcoming the NIH syndrome and leveraging the Korean woman’s uncommon information can the team ultimately achieve the best possible course of action.
By no means would this be an easy process for our story’s manager. Hearing that you’ve accidentally silenced members of your team isn’t easy, and we often create excuses instead of acknowledging the problem. In any situation, there will be multiple ways to reconcile cultural differences; but, if done correctly, the result will always be an increase in efficiency and harmony as members of the organization feel more included, accepted, and at home.
The reconciliation phase is where the true power of diversity manifests itself. Many research studies have shown that the more diverse a team is, the more ideas there will be among its members. A team that is too homogenous, or that only has diversity for the sake of compliance, will often miss out on key voices—and innovation will be stifled. On the other hand, a team that has diversity of race, gender, age, religion, economic background, and so on will usually produce significantly better ideas and have significantly better results because of it. Every metric of diversity brings with it diversity of thought. It is this diversity of thought that creates an edge. So, if you want to foster innovation, surround yourself with people who look, sound, and think differently than you do.
The team from our story reconciled its differences; it listened to those different voices, and it respected them. The manager adjusted the way that the team held meetings and gave every team member a time to share their thoughts and ideas in their own way. A process leader was assigned to curb the dominance of any one individual and invite more participation from quieter members. Ultimately, the team was able to generate a broader pool of ideas and increase its productivity.
Diversity and inclusion, the goal of the 3Rs, are important not just for innovation, but also for creating a more connected world. The reconciliation phase, like the other two phases of the 3Rs framework, is designed to connect individuals together despite cultural differences that may wedge them apart. When we reconcile our differences with one another, we learn that there is far more that connects us as a human family than there is that pushes us apart. Whether you are the head of a multinational behemoth or a new team member at a small startup, successfully reconciling differences will help you to create a friendlier, more passionate, and more prosperous work environment.
As demonstrated in our story, the reconciliation phase is impossible without the first two steps of recognition and respect. You can view our materials for the recognition and respect phases here. You can also develop your cultural intelligence using our BUILD Global Leadership Assessment. As we master recognizing, respecting, and reconciling cultural differences, we will reach others on an unprecedented scale and harness the true power of diversity. Through this power, we can create a more connected, peaceful, and beautiful world.