Ways to Respect Differences at Work

Listen before you speak. When you’re communicating with someone, seek first to understand, then to be understood. Listen to what the other person has to say before responding with your thoughts. To ensure that you’re listening well, summarize your understanding of what the other person has said and ask if you’ve got it correct. Don’t interrupt or speak over the other person.

Make an effort to draw out the ideas and opinions of people who don’t jump into a conversation. Different cultures have different norms around the pace of conversation, and outgoing or more reserved people in any culture may have different styles of engagement. You don’t have to be a leader of a meeting to notice that someone who might have a different and valuable perspective has not spoken. Ask the person if they’d like to share their thoughts. By doing this, you’re showing that you care about their opinion and creating a pause in the conversation to allow them to speak.

Make a special effort to include people with different perspectives. Look around you when you gather in a workgroup, and consider whether your team has an appropriate mix of people—by gender, race, ethnicity, age, or other differences. Show your respect for the variety of talent, thoughts, and ideas in your organization by including people with different backgrounds and worldviews in your workgroups. You’ll get better ideas while helping to build a more inclusive culture.

Share credit, and offer praise. One of the most disrespectful and demoralizing things you can do at work is to take credit for another person’s idea or contribution. You get more esteem in others’ eyes when you place credit where it is deserved. Go out of your way to thank others for their contributions and offer praise, especially to people who are quieter and less willing to boast about their accomplishments. Remember, you don’t have to be a manager to give meaningful recognition.

Build your cultural competence. You can’t respect differences at work if you don’t recognize and understand them. Cultural competence is the ability to interact effectively with people of other cultures—including people in your own community who have had different life experiences. Building cultural competence takes work, but it pays off in better relationships with people who are different from you—and who may have a great deal to teach you. Read about cultural competence, or ask if your organization offers training.

Treat others as they wish to be treated. In a world of differences, it’s not enough to treat others as you’d want them to treat you. You need to treat others as they want to be treated. By building cultural competence, you’ll begin to be more aware of differences in how people interact and show respect for each other. Notice when someone takes offense at something you do or say, and learn from it.

If you are concerned about your mental health, don’t hesitate to seek advice. BHS is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 800-245-1150.