Managing Apples and Oranges

Diversity is more than a buzzword. It’s the way companies do business in the 21st century. From diversity of race, religion, culture and gender, the American workforce has become a true melting pot – and that’s a good thing.

There’s another kind of diversity that doesn’t get mentioned very often – and that’s diversity of personality. There are just about as many different types of workplace personalities as there are workers. Aggressives, sensitives, adventurers, cheerleaders, perfectionists, energizers, curmudgeons, and loners are just some of the descriptors commonly batted about. Chances are you could add a few others to that list.

While it’s easy to assume differences will inevitably cause conflicts, that need not be the case if you are aware of differences and respect them for what they bring to the team. When embraced, diverse personalities and work styles are what ultimately make a team effective. When differences are ignored – or worse yet, squelched – that’s when conflict, feuds, and other workplace disharmony surfaces. Left unchecked, such problems may even result in lawsuits as employee leverage charges of hostile work environments or sexual harassment.

Here are a few tips for making sure your team of apples and oranges bears fruit:

1- Encourage Collaboration and Compromise: When workplace differences threaten the underlying structure of the team, it’s best to take a proactive approach and encourage the parties involved to discuss their differences and seek a resolution. By working together to come up with a mutually beneficial solution, they are empowered to embrace their differences and make it work.

2- Practice Team-Building: Nothing harmonizes a diverse workforce as well as a good old-fashioned team-building exercise. From company retreats to team bonding sessions, such activities focus more on what a group of people has in common than what differentiates them from each other.

3- Play to Their Strengths: If some members of the team are more outgoing than others and tend to monopolize the conversation during meetings, for example, allow them to share their ideas freely. Be sure to allow for ample opportunities for their quieter colleagues to contribute equally, however, when in meetings or via e-mail.

4- Take a Breather: When matters begin to get heated, encourage your employees to take a break. Removing team members from a potentially argumentative situation will give them a chance to cool off, thoughtfully consider the situation, and take a fresh look at the differences that seemed so bothersome just moments before. Be sure to remain calm yourself, however. Remember, you are a manager, not a referee.

Diverse personalities are inevitable. In our society, different cultures, values, and viewpoints may it impossible to avoid encountering many different types of people. Instead of wringing your hands and wishing everyone could be the same, embrace your diverse workforce, employ the strategies listed above, and enjoy the fact that no two people are the same. Your team – and ultimately your bottom line – will be all the better for it.

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