Pro diversity values in a pandemic
“Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us every day” Sally Koch
We have certainly united as a nation to support and comfort each other in these trying times. In my mind, a powerful re-calibration of social norms and values has taken place; values such as empathy, kindness and vulnerability have so incredibly been brought to the fore. We are heavily drawing upon our ‘heart brain’ which senses the world through emotions and feelings and which guides our values and our connection with others. We refer to this as the ‘ancient mammalian system for parenting’ where you instinctively want to help others.
The current narrative around diversity and inclusion refers to ‘cognitive diversity’. This constitutes a balance of left brain skills such as being analytical, systematic and fact-based and right-brain skills such as empathy, kindness and vulnerability. It is these right brain traits that will ultimately nurture trusting relationships and bring out the best in people in our working environments. If we want to create high performing teams, leaders and managers need to ensure that these more ‘tender’ qualities are routinely embedded long after the pandemic is over!
Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.
‘Clap for our carers’ is a prime example of this as we consider what life might be like for our key workers and especially our NHS staff at the present time. In empathising with their workloads, their anxieties and the risks they undertake, the majority of us have considered the impact of our actions and non-actions.
Empathy also promotes helping others and allows us to build connections with one another. We, as human beings, are social creatures and desire social belonging and interaction, this will increasingly be the case as the weeks go by. As a result we will find ways of helping those deemed to be in more need than ourselves.
If we want to build cohesive cultures in our workplaces, empathy is equally important and can be cultivated by:
Examining our assumptions, thoughts and views so that these do not act as a blocker to our openness and receptiveness of others views.
Silencing our inner thoughts and listening to learn rather than respond, purely focusing on what is being shared with us.
Asking thoughtful questions to fully understand the others thoughts, feelings and motivations. ‘So how does that make you feel?’; ‘What is the impact on you?’; ‘How can we approach this issue?’.
“EMPATHY IS SEEING WITH THE EYES OF ANOTHER, LISTENING WITH THE EARS OF ANOTHER AND FEELING WITH THE HEART OF ANOTHER.”
Kindness is the quality of being generous, helpful and caring about other people.
There have been numerous acts of kindness with people offering support to each other, to people they’ve never spoken to before and especially to older people and the vulnerable. This generosity and compassion is helping to uplift the nation’s spirits and alleviate loneliness and isolation for many.
Our workplaces can be equally isolating for some, usually because of an aspect of their identity such as their appearance, gender identity, skin colour, communication style and much more, essentially all that makes us different from one another.
Kindness is known to increase well being and productivity. We can embed the concept of kindness in our workplaces by:
Performing random acts of kindness on a regular basis such as making someone a cup of tea, paying someone a compliment, and simply smiling.
Recognising people’s strengths and not their weaknesses. A focus on the ‘negatives’ inhibits our ability to extend gratefulness to others.
Foster and encourage kindness by appreciating, rewarding and celebrating such pro social behaviours.
“KINDNESS IS HAVING THE ABILITY TO SPEAK WITH LOVE, LISTEN WITH PATIENCE AND ACT WITH COMPASSION.”
Vulnerability is the quality of being physically or emotionally affected.
Over the last few weeks many people have not been afraid to share their emotions. The present situation has presented people the opportunity to reflect on how they are feeling, which is something we don’t often take the time to do. This is the ‘gut brain’ in action helping us to focus on self-preservation in these uncertain times.
This emotional vulnerability is just as important in a workplace. It’s recognising that as human beings we are not infallible and it’s not always about showing up as tough, competent and independent all of the time.
Vulnerability breeds trust. We can create psychologically safe cultures by:
Allowing people to bring their ‘whole self’ to work, where the sharing of vulnerability is normalised and not seen as a sign of weakness.
Developing the emotional vocabulary that enables all to express their emotions assertively and constructively.
Having open, non-judgmental conversations where people feel they can share issues, both personal and professional.
“VULNERABILITY IS AN ASSET NOT A LIABILITY”
It is fortunate that these qualities are not fixed traits. They can be learnt as we focus on developing our interpersonal skills.
Where employers can capitalise on these values, they will be able to effectively resolve conflicts, build more productive teams, and improve relationships amongst colleagues, and with their clients and customers.
Remember that right brain traits are not just for crises!