Inclusion boils down to awareness of self, awareness of others, and bridging the gaps between. That sounds simple enough, but many people feel stuck when thinking of ways to address exclusion and bridge boundaries with their coworkers near and far. So what does bridge building look like practically?
There are three crucial skills one can utilize to build bridges:
- empathy: sensing the emotions of others, including reactions to exclusion
- perspective: taking a broad and objective view of self and others
- flexibility: altering behavior patterns that are exclusionary and ineffective
The more we get to know our colleagues, the more empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, we are able to show them. Empathy not only connects us to the “why” behind the behaviors and emotions of others, but it also helps us better understand our own actions. We can see where we may have caused harm, like when we made an inside joke that caused some people to feel left out, and realize our own biases, like the way we felt about our coworkers tattoos.
While it’s key for everyone to champion empathy in the workplace, leaders especially have a role to play in building a psychologically safe team culture. Our Interactive Guide for the Compassionate Leader can help you determine if you are taking the necessary steps to support your team members.
An empathetic mindset helps us think outside our frame of reference, gather and incorporate many perspectives, and make informed decisions. Thinking intersectionally about our coworkers and the systems present in our work environment clues us into the obvious and not-so-obvious realities of others. This awareness drives us to rethink how we do business, develop products and solutions, and collaborate within our organization. Innovative leaders include a wide range of perspectives not just in idea generation, but also in the planning and implementation stages.
Think of ways you can expand your circle to include more people, and consider inviting members of other groups to join your team’s discussions to expand awareness, broaden networks, and include their important perspectives.
By learning more about our team members, we are able to adapt our behavior to work better together. If you and one of your teammates, for example, are quite different in your communication style, you can exercise style-switching, modifying your behavior to better align with the preferences of others, to improve your collaboration. Changing what feels natural to you may initially feel disingenuous to some, but keep in mind that this isn’t an exercise in changing yourself, rather you are being empathetic by making small changes in the moment to work in the best way with others.
In addition to our day-to-day interactions, we can also become more flexible through new experiences. These can be as small as attending a meeting you don’t normally attend, or as big as moving to a new country to lead a new team. Taking on new experiences shakes up the rules and boundaries in our minds; it stimulates us to examine challenges from a different point of view and to adopt new problem-solving strategies. Consider ways, big and small, that you can change up your day-to-day work and adapt your work style to collaborate more inclusively with your colleagues.
Developing empathy, perspective, and flexibility helps us address various forms of exclusion, develop cultural competence, and build a foundation of trust and psychological safety within our teams and workplace. This in turn helps us confront our biases and provides opportunities for continued discovery and learning. As we build our bridge-building skills, we are becoming more innovative, and most importantly, creating work environments in which all feel a true sense of belonging.
The GlobeSmart ProfileSM is the perfect tool for improving collaboration with others and continually developing and implementing these three fundamental skills for bridge building.