Skills for Connecting With Diversity

(submitted by Linda Hill) 

???On June 1, 2016 Joy Emmanuel and I represented the Inclusive Leadership Co-operative at the 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Calgary, Alberta. One of two workshops we facilitated was an exploration of how Inclusive Leadership skills for Connecting with Differences and Communicating With Compassion can help co-operative associations, non-profit organizations, and any group of people become more co-operative.

openingcircle10Here are six skills for Connecting With Differences that are so essential for:  “…leveling of hierarchy, inclusion of all parties, players, members of family, community and organizations. Inclusive Leadership is a strength-based focus where there is appreciative inquiry into group or community strengths. Inclusive Leadership focuses on what gives life to community-building, communicating needs and solutions. It gives a community a positive, solution-focused way of problem-solving. It brings people of all ages to the table, circle or forum. It celebrates what works, and gives room for dreaming, designing and celebrating.” (Wedlidi Speck, Director of Aboriginal Service Change for the Government of BC).

1. Relaxing About Differences: The skill of being relaxed and curious instead of rigid and furious is the key to disarming instinctive fight/flight reactions to differences. The way to relax is to consciously and intentionally take long deep breaths. You can do this by meditating, laughing, exercising, playing with children, and losing yourself in music, art or other creative activities. By relaxing, you are disarming your unthinking instincts to react negatively to differences, and you are keeping your parasympathetic nervous system open to learning. With a relaxed body and an open-mind, you become receptive to considering new information, exploring new ideas, and learning new things about tending and befriending diversity.

2. Daring to be Different: Daring to be different means valuing differences as gifts that enrich our communities instead of seeing differences as problems. Instead of trying to make everyone conform to and fit in with the mainstream majority, the skill of daring to be different encourages everyone to stand out and be proud of who we each are. This is a courageous skill because standing up for diversity and inclusion challenges the dominant world-view that there are certain groups or individuals who are superior to other living beings. You are daring to be different when you speak out about ways others could understand and accommodate differences in your culture, traditions, religion, race, age, family background, ability differences, life-style, gender or sexual orientation, life circumstances, or other aspects of your background. You are daring to be different when you are curious, appreciative and informed about your own and others differences.

3. Connecting with Circles: The skill of connecting with circles builds inclusive and welcoming a communities because it is the skill of making it easy for everyone to travel safely, respectfully, peacefully and enjoyably from group to group. Connecting with circles involves a strong and balanced combination of culturally-appreciative participation and personally-responsive self care to manage the stresses and strains of culture shock as you

  • join new groups and adapt to different cultures and sub-cultures within new groups
  • welcome visitors and newcomers to groups that you belong to
  • bring members of different groups together in inclusive and welcoming ways

4. Leaving Out Losing: Leaving out losing involves intentionally shifting away from exclusion and oppression based on race, ethnicity, faith, culture, ability, gender, sexual orientation and other differences by replacing competition and hierarchies with cooperation at every opportunity. Cooperation leads to more equal and more creative sharing of skills, resources, power and influence. Although it is true that the people on top of a competitive system tend to use their power and influence to stay on top, it is amazingly easy for people who are skilled at leaving out losing to create cooperative groups within competitive systems. One way is to suggest co-operative alternatives such as a festival instead of a tournament. Another way is to invite people to co-operatively and collaboratively listen to and consider hopes and dreams for win-win ideals from groups and individuals from throughout a community.

5. Refocusing and Reframing: Refocusing and reframing is the skill of exploring multiple perspectives and alternative points of view instead of getting tricked into polarized either/or thinking or “my way or the highway” arguments. You are practicing this skill when you ask open questions and make suggestions that encourage people to consider the middle ground and the full range of ideas that are in between opposing positions. You are practicing this skill when you shift from focusing on problems to more appreciative points of view: Let’s share our different perspectives on the situation. I wonder if there are some more possibilities to consider? Let’s open up the floor to everyone’s input. What are some positive aspects of the situation?

6. Following the Leaders Behind Us: Following the leaders behind us is the skill of inviting and valuing contributions of people (and other living beings) who are in the background. The skill of inviting background leaders to come forward is powerful because leaders in the background can see the big picture and so they often share observations and make suggestions that shift everyone to see things from new angles, look at multiple ideas, and discover more tools for moving toward new ideas for solutions to our interconnected challenges. Following the leaders behind us also means learning from history and supporting the voices of children, elders, and people who have been marginalized to be heard. Instead of putting people in the background on the spot, be careful to ask permission and develop a plan for sharing leadership first. Remember – in an inclusive group everyone has the right to pass.

Click here to download our Inclusive Leadership Skills booklet with descriptions of these skills for connecting with differences, skills for communicating with compassion, anti-discrimination first aid skills, and skills for Building Bridges within and between groups.