In order to maximize the value of diversity, an inclusive (work) culture is needed. Using the eight guidelines for creating an inclusive culture, the promise of diversity (which is creativity, innovation, quality) can be realized. In this series of blogs, I will focus on a new guideline each week.
Guideline 1: Don’t Clone, Guideline 2: Challenge Your Truth, Guideline 3: Enjoy the Free Fall of Not Knowing
More diversity provides more images of the same reality. In order to realize the potential of this diversity, we need to learn how to deal with the uncertainty that comes along with “not knowing.” Each change, and each confrontation with people who see, think, and do things differently, brings up discussions about assumptions and ideas we hold as self-evident. It messes around with the status quo, the existing order of knowledge, frameworks, truths, power, and so on. This results in uncertainty and possible tensions – and new possibilities.
Diversity and change take you outside your comfort zone. The automatic pilot doesn’t work anymore. Habits and routines break down. There’s a reason why managing uncertainty and anxiety is an important intercultural competency. It’s important to create some certainty in uncertain situations, for example, by providing a timeline during a change, or building in moments to remind yourself of familiar elements (with music, food, or friends, for example) while staying abroad. It’s important to be open to the emotions and reflexive reactions that go along with diversity and change, knowing that it’s precisely these tensions that open the door to shared wisdom.
Benefits are to be found in our differences: there are opportunities for renewal, change, and improvement. In those moments when you “just don’t know,” all options are open. It might require some effort to resist the urge to return to familiar (old) patterns as quickly as possible and put aside your judgments about the ideas and actions of others.
Enjoying the free fall of not knowing is probably easier said than done – but it is possible to learn! You actually can stretch your comfort zone. This can be done in the context of cultural intelligence by regularly immersing yourself in other countries and cultures. In the context of diversity in a more general sense, you can do this by placing yourself in new situations and challenging yourself to learn new behaviors.
In an inclusive (work) culture, you can train and support people in stretching their comfort zones. And while some discomfort is apart of this process, “panic” should be avoided. People generally function poorly when they are in the “panic zone.” In intercultural literature, we talk about “culture shock.” It’s possible, through the use of various games, to train people to deal with this “shock.” For the trainers and coaches who are reading this: I often use the model that’s shown here on the right. This link provides inspiration for an exercise.
Let me end with a YouTube “classic” that you can use to reflect on this question: “How do I react to broken habits and routines?”