How to work with and lead people not like you

It’s not hard to bring people with different backgrounds and experiences together, writes Kelly McDonald

Across the world, demographics are changing quickly and increasingly you are likely to be working with people who are not like you. They may be of a different race or ethnicity, may not speak your language fluently, may come from different countries, cultures or backgrounds, may be LGBT+, be of a different generation, have different personalities, or may simply have a different approach to work than you have.

So how do you work effectively with someone who has a different approach to work than you do? And as a leader, how do you bring your team together, in spite of their differences?

1. Find common ground
When working with someone who is different from you, the first thing you typically see are the differences: their gender, age, colour of skin, etc. But when you find common ground with another person, it becomes something that connects you. You can use anything to start a conversation with the goal of finding common ground, be it sport, music or the weather.

2: Agree to disagree
Different perspectives, approaches and viewpoints can often lead to friction at work. Not everyone sees things the same way and this can result in tension when people try to “win” an argument or persuade others to their point of view. Instead, say: “I see it differently”.

This phrase works magic, because when you say, “I see it differently”, you’re not being antagonistic, judgmental or superior. You’re not being combative or even trying to persuade the other person. You’re simply stating that you see it differently, which will likely lead to a constructive conversation about how you see things. You’ll share your point of view and a discussion will follow. These four words can turn a debate into a discussion.

3: Take out the emotion
Most of us try hard to like the people we work with. And sometimes we may feel like we are doing something wrong when we just don’t like someone.

But liking and disliking are emotions and at work, you can leave emotion out of it. You don’t have to like someone to be able to work effectively with them.

When you realise it is OK to not like someone, it frees you to focus on the job at hand. Of course, you must be respectful and professional at all times, but you don’t have to like someone to work on a budget forecast with them.

4: When people say the wrong thing, bring it back to business
A client once told me a story of someone who was in a meeting and was trying to show how smart he was. Someone made a suggestion and he replied: “That’s the most retarded idea I’ve ever heard”. It was an outrageously offensive comment. Everyone knew this guy was not trying to mock mentally disabled people. He was likely using a word he has used all his life, completely unaware of how inappropriate and offensive it is.

My client addressed the issue and said: “Howard, I’m sure you didn’t mean that the way it sounded. Please don’t use that word again – it has no place in this business conversation.”

The employee was mortified. He truly hadn’t realized he had said that and he was remorseful. But the fact that his supervisor brought the conversation back to business, immediately, kept
the focus on constructively moving the business forward.

Obviously, if this continued to be a problem, the company would have to address it. However, sometimes people do say the wrong thing – not out of malice or meanness, but out of ignorance and carelessness.

Give people a chance to right the wrong and bring it back to the topic in hand.

Kelly McDonald is president of McDonald Marketing and the author of three bestselling books.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of LEAD. To make sure you never miss an issue, subscribe today for as little as £50 for the year.