Excellence University Blog

Interpersonal Expertise Tip: Appreciating (and Utilizing) Differences

by Dr. Brian Higley

February 2nd, 2010

So often, we can make the mistake of wanting everyone in our lives to be exactly like us; this desire can cause consistent problems in our relationships.  After all, surrounding ourselves with others who are exactly the same as us is a sure route to boredom and/or stagnation!  Some say that the answer is a more “tolerant” attitude toward those with differences, which can imply that we should simply put up with others’ differences so we can all survive together.

It is our position that true appreciation of differences (rather than simple toleration of them) comes from a realization of how useful our collective differences are to our collective ability to not only survive together, but to thrive.  This Interpersonal Expertise Tip focuses on identifying how our differences can be turned from annoyances or experiences to be tolerated to opportunities for satisfaction, achievement and/or growth – for all people involved.

Genuine appreciation of differences can be cultivated by promoting an awareness about how differences are helpful to us in general.  This appreciation can sometimes be deepened further when we become aware of how specific differences in those around us can help all parties to move toward their objectives in life.  Here are some ways people have been able to cultivate more genuine appreciation for others’ differences:

  • Reflect on how people with differences have impacted the world in positive ways. A general appreciation of differences can often be helped along via reflections on how different talents, passions and perspectives have been helpful to us in general.  For instance, those with a different way of thinking have been critical to our abilities to enjoy light bulbs, democracy and automobiles.  They have also been responsible for social, educational and medical improvements across time.  We have all been positively impacted by people different from us in a great variety of ways!
  • When appropriate, identify others who have similar objectives in life (and different passions, perspectives or abilities) and investigate how to use differences to assist each other. Our appreciation for differences can deepen even further when we begin to see how such differences in other people can impact our current aims in life.  Some have benefited greatly by identifying common objectives with others, then moving toward those objectives by utilizing differences.  For example, there are many people who have a common objective to increase their annual revenue or income.  A group of three people with the same objective may have different talents that, when used together, can help all three achieve their common objective (one person may develop a product to sell, another may be good at talking with others about the product and the third may be good at organizing things financially).  This can also apply to personal common objectives like “have more fun,” “be healthier,” and “keep the house clean.”  If we can find people with common interests and different talents or interests, we can see first-hand the power of appreciating and utilizing our differences.
  • Be aware of the tendency to focus on the negatives related to differences by regularly affirming helpful differences. Some research has indicated that negative experiences may be 5 times as impactful on us.  This can mean that if we have 1 positive experience and 1 negative one in a certain hour, that hour can feel as though we actually had 5 negative experiences and only 1 positive one!  In order to stay aware of how we have been impacted positively by others’ differences it seems important to make a commitment to fight this tendency by staying aware of how these differences have been helpful to us.  Focusing on the suggestions above on a daily or weekly basis has been useful for many attempting to deepen their appreciation of differences.

NOTE TO THOSE USING THE MISSION FULFILLMENT SYSTEM: You can move toward more Interpersonal Expertise by adding a new Objective to your system by using the “Add New Item” link (for example, “Deepen my appreciation for others’ differences”).  You can then develop a SMART Goal related to that new Objective by using the “Add Subitem” link to the far right of the new Objective (for example, “Talk with Jay and Carolyn about how we might use our differences to have more fun and get more things done that we all value.”).

FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT ON THE MISSION FULFILLMENT SYSTEM: Click here to for more information and click here to sign up.

FINAL NOTE: If you were linked to this article by a video or email, please return to that link and proceed with any other instructions that you deem helpful.  For more Execution Excellence and Interpersonal Expertise tips and tools visit our site at: www.excellenceuniversity.net

Article Filed under: 2. Interpersonal Expertise Tips

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Lindsey E  |  October 10th, 2014 at 11:51 am

    I think this article highlights how my relationship with my mom went from strained and annoyed to fun and fairly stress-free. For the longest time, I used to get so annoyed when she would try to give me advice on everything, come across as controlling, and constantly sound negative. I used to think it was her trying to prevent me from having fun or enjoying life. However, over the recent years, I have learned to recognize that it is just a personality difference between us. She feels the need to express her opinion on just about everything, whereas I am fairly quiet and don’t speak my personal opinion unless I am asked. She also tends to give advice without asking, whereas I generally don’t unless again I am asked to. Once I realized this, it helped me to see that she was, in fact, not trying to mess up my own life experience or control me, but rather just being herself. Now that I know this, it makes it much easier to understand how she responds when I tell her my experiences and what I am going through or what I am planning to do. In fact, sometimes I will thank her because she points out something I had never thought of or hadn’t yet considered. I no longer take it as a personal threat, but rather, just a friendly piece of advice. It has helped our relationship a ton! In general, though I think differences and diversity will result in something stronger than just one way. It annoys me personally when people think there is only one way to do something and think something different is taboo. Like this article suggests, reflecting on the ways differences have affected the world really opens your eyes to just how good different can be. I personally believe it is through differences we create and expand upon new things, from technology to ideas, so why not appreciate the differences? When I am in a rut, I find that talking to someone who has similar goals, but has a different way of approaching them, really helps me get out of the rut. Often, just by talking to them I have a “eureka” moment where it suddenly clicks and I realize there are many other ways to approach the situation and get out of the rut I am in. For example, I am not thrilled about going to the dentist at all, and it used to make me really sour and bitter and anxious. My friend, who used to be a dental assistant and is now working on becoming a dentist, told me to focus on the end result and not the process. Instead of focusing on being poked with needles and having a numb face, she told me to focus on the fact that my teeth will be healthy after and if I maintain that health, I may never have to experience anything like this again. I thought about it and realized she was right. While I may have resisted the dentist and developed a dislike towards visits, it was only because I focused on the initial annoyance and pain, not the end result and benefit.

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