One of Microsoft’s 10 inclusive behaviors “Understand each person’s contributions” is derived from the fact that we may underestimate the ability of someone who is different from us. In global teams, cultural differences can often be misunderstood – and if we don’t actively seek to understand each person’s contributions, we may inadvertently make mistakes in our judgment.

A Stanford study found that American workplaces could be screening out jobseekers from other cultural backgrounds, because they placed outsized emphasis on how enthusiastic a candidate appeared in their job interview. Candidates who come from cultural backgrounds where they’re taught to appear calm versus excited in a job interview were often disadvantaged when being interviewed by American employers. The study concluded that the American preference for emotional responses at work could result in workplace bias by overlooking qualified candidates, simply on their emotional behavior.

We know that our own experiences sometimes block us from recognizing that others bring value through experiences, strengths, perspectives, work and communication styles different from our own. That is why we are committed to embracing opportunities to grow and learn from others.

So how do innovative organizations adapt to different work and leadership styles across the world?

First, approach each situation and person who is different from you with empathy. When confronted with a work style different from your own, observe what are your first reactions. How can you move from a frame of dismissal and defensiveness to one of empathy in your conversation with them? A Harvard Business Review article points to developing empathetic listening, which requires managers to recognize all verbal and nonverbal cues. This means, not just relying on your hearing to receive information, but understanding the communication from facial expressions, tone and other body language.

Second, listen deeply when asking clarifying questions. Encourage open dialogue by starting your conversation with phrases like: “thank you for sharing” and “I appreciate you taking the time to share with me.” Then ask for more information that you’re seeking – such as their experiences, perspectives or work, as it relates to the task at hand. Engage in encouraging body language such as nodding and avoid distractions during the conversation, especially devices and screens.

Third, avoid immediately jumping to conclusions about another’s contributions. When you have a negative reaction, pause and take a gut check – what could be causing this reaction? Ask yourself: Are there facts to back up what I’m thinking, or am I drawing conclusions too quickly? Then, try and think about what are their positive attributes – are you only focusing on the negative? Intentionally focusing on the positive can balance out the negative, according to research, and may even help you develop a more balanced opinion of the individual.

Fourth, seek to identify learning opportunities from the other person. Is there a way they communicate that may be helpful in certain situations? Are there strengths they demonstrate that you could learn from? When we reframe our mindset to one of curiosity and learning, we have a better chance of understanding the unique contributions that different people bring to the workforce.


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