"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." – Aristotle
I played the flute earlier in life and remember the thrill of my first solo performance, particularly exciting since I had written the music. But as lovely as that was, a solo flute with no accompaniment has a singular sound. It comes alive when other instruments join in.
Playing in the school band transformed my solo voice into a full blown and complete tapestry of performance—one that a solo instrument really couldn’t match. It was more challenging, but the effort was clearly worth it.
I thought about this recently as I was collaborating on a presentation for a conference with a client. I’m used to working alone on many of my keynotes, and I quickly discovered that this type of collaboration takes a lot more time and back and forth.
Our process was that I would work on the design, send it to her and we would then review it together. Every time I would prep for the online call, I’d think, “This is pretty well set.” And then the call would come, and together, we would evolve the design to an entirely more interesting and sophisticated level.
More work? Absolutely!
Teams. Co-workers. Couples. Families. All represent differences that require this additional effort. Diversity is the norm, and it’s what makes life interesting. Yet so often there is an element of surprise and irritation when, once again, we have to figure out what that other person is trying to do. The difference adds spice (just imagine what it would be like if everyone we lived and worked with saw the world exactly as we did), yet we still get frustrated and struggle.
Embracing and including diversity of all kinds has become an initiative in many organizations, and for good reason. There’s plenty of research supporting its role in increased profitability and sales revenue, customer acquisition and retention rates, innovation, problem solving effectiveness, and more.
It makes sense: when two different elements come together, they create something new. One part hydrogen with two parts oxygen creates water. So we get it; it’s the right thing to do, and there is a payoff. But how do you overcome the inevitable frustration that comes with it?
Try these quick tips to help you get past the irritation and really get the value from your differences:
- Put the differences on the table: Have a “how are we different” engagement using tools like assessments to understand where you have similarities and differences. They will surprise you less, and you will be better equipped to build off of them.
- Take a task you share and allocate the items in the task to best suit your skills and preferences. For example, if you’re planning an event, consider who is better at finance? Who is better organized and good with logistics? Who has more creative ideas? Who communicates better?Sometimes, you’ll discover that there’s a blind spot—something that neither of you is perfectly suited to. With my husband and me, it’s the detail orientation. We can both do it, but neither of us enjoys it, so we share the load on that one.
- Mind your mindset with the difference factor: When you find yourself getting irritated, write down the difference factor you are reacting to. By writing it down, you are identifying it and sidestepping your emotional reaction, which often blinds our thinking.
Difference adds value, but only when your mind sees the difference as additive not destructive. So seek out diversity. It will never be easy, but you can design and work toward making the inevitably bumpy road worth the ride.