Executive Director's Blog: The Power of Our Differences

Rob's Blog: power of our differences

We frequently talk about the importance, value, and necessity of building diverse organizations.  What we don’t discuss enough is how to utilize our diversity to achieve organizational excellence.  Everyone is familiar with examples of the power of diversity at work.  How often do we refer to two individuals as complementary?  The word “complementary” presumes two things:

  1. The individuals are different in some significant way.
  2. The individuals have found a way to utilize each other’s differences for a better result.

You can’t be complementary without diversity.  And you can’t harness the power of diversity unless you find a way to utilize your differences.  Diversity takes many forms: Ethnicity, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc.  All have the potential to impact our organization’s performance, for better or worse, depending on how we utilize our differences.

Work style diversity is an interesting window into how our differences can work for us or against us, depending on how we interpret intent and our willingness to see value in others’ perspectives.  I have had the good fortune to use a tool called Tilt 365 to assess my and my team members’ work styles, including the strengths and weaknesses our styles lend to any work situation.  There are four Tilts: Clarity, Connection, Impact and Structure. 

A Clarity naturally connects people with information.  They consult data to investigate all the angles before they make a decision.  At their best, Clarities ask questions that help us make better decisions.  At their worst, Clarities can paralyze a situation because they aren’t sure how to proceed.

A Connection is the quintessential people person.  They are all about connecting people with ideas.  Their high emotional intelligence enables them to build rapport quickly with people and understand what is needed in a particular situation.  At their best, Connections build relationships that benefit the organization.  At their worst, Connections say Yes too often and have trouble meeting all their commitments. 

An Impact wants to bring ideas to life.  They are creative problem solvers who excel at innovation and are comfortable taking risks.  At their best, Impacts knock down walls in order to move things forward rapidly.  At their worst, Impacts move things forward before they are ready, or before consensus has been built.

A Structure enjoys connecting information with action.  Structures are system builders who bring stability and sustainability to an organization.  At their best, Structures are highly productive and focused contributors.  At their worst, Structures can slow down progress because of their adherence to rules and processes.

There is plenty more to say about the four Tilts, but these brief capsules give you a sense of how each category is defined.  As with any assessment, learning about yourself is interesting, but usually not surprising.  Although you may think of your style in different terms, you probably already have a sense of your strengths and weaknesses in the workplace.  What’s more surprising - and useful - is the potential benefit of training yourself to recognize other Tilts on the fly and adapting your approach accordingly.

The next time you find yourself meeting resistance from someone in the workplace, start asking questions.  Try to suss out the source of the resistance.  Is the fact that your idea doesn’t yet fit into an existing process making the other person uncomfortable?  Perhaps they are a Structure.  Is the other person bored because they don’t see the significance of your idea?  They are probably an Impact.  Is the person concerned that others from the community might raise objections?  You might be sitting across from a Connector.  Is the person asking lots of specific questions?  Hola, Clarity.  It’s always worth the effort to try to understand another person’s perspective.  Not only will it help you in this particular instance, but by learning what the other person needs, you will know how to tailor your message to them in the future.

To illustrate with a real-life example, consider how a former coworker (a Clarity) and I (an Impact) interacted--

Rob:  I have this idea:  [insert breathless, enthusiastic, vague idea here]

Coworker:  Do you mean X?

Rob:  Good question.  It could be X, or maybe Y.  I think Y would work better for these reasons:  [lists reasons]

Coworker:  Will Y overlap with Z, because remember the time we tried Z and so-and-so objected?

Rob:  I remember now.  We need to steer clear of Z.  That was awful.  So let’s go back to X and do that.

Coworker:  Have you asked so-and-so about X?  She was saying last month that she would want to be involved in a project that sounded a lot like X.

Rob:  Really?  That’s great!  Yes, let’s call her up and see if she wants to be on the X advisory committee.

That was my coworker and I at our best.  We were opposites and we were complementary.  Note the Impact (me) dwelling on the idea and its exciting potential and the Clarity (coworker) asking questions to try and hone in on a more specific embodiment of the idea.  That’s the type of conversation we had after taking the Tilt 365 assessment and learning how to apply what we discovered about ourselves and each other.  We used our unique Tilts to challenge each other in ways we would not challenge ourselves.  The outcomes of these conversations were better, more thorough organizational decisions.

Our conversations were not always so productive.  As an Impact, I am enthusiastic about ideas and bringing them to life.  So excited that I have to force myself to slow down at times to do due diligence, build more community support, or seek out the right partner.  My preferred pace?  Faster.  A Clarity like my coworker needed to ask (and have answers to) questions about the specifics of an idea in order to feel comfortable moving forward.  Because of this, her pace was more deliberate.  Before our Tilt 365 assessment, conversations between us sometimes resulted in miscommunication.  When I came to my coworker with a new idea, I interpreted her questions as reluctance and negativity.  She viewed my impatience with her questions as dismissiveness. In this way, our mutual misreading of each other perpetuated an unhelpful pattern.

After our Tilt 365 assessment and resulting awareness of one another’s styles and needs, we became more and more grateful for our differences.  When I stopped interpreting my coworker’s questions as unnecessary worrying or negativity, I began to see the value of slowing down a bit to consider them and provide thoughtful answers.  Better that I sharpen my idea early on, in a safe environment, than be onstage somewhere fielding the question from a skeptical community member.  And for my coworker, whose job often entailed operationalizing new services, it was beneficial to catch some of my religion about why an idea was compelling so that she could articulate the vision to others she would need to work with to bring it to life.  We learned to “tilt” into each other’s style and utilize our differences for a better result.

This highlights the importance of interpreting another person’s intention, which is notoriously difficult.  Assessment tools like Tilt 365 help us understand perspectives towards work that differ from our own, recognize them in the behavior of others, and then leverage our differences to yield a better result for our organizations.

And this is where we can extrapolate from work style diversity to all types of diversity.  We may not have an assessment tool to help us, but we do have our innate tools of curiosity, close listening, empathy, and gratitude.  Using these tools helps us hone our ability to uncover intention, understand perspectives other than our own, and leverage our differences for a stronger team, organization, and even society.


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