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What defines us, divides us

I have been fortunate enough to recently make another trip to the UN in Bangkok. As with my previous trip it is amazing to see people from around the world, working towards cracking some of the tough issues we all face as a global community.

I also noted with interest that the challenges people working with the UN face are no different to others I work with. From organisations to countries the same dynamic is at play … what defines us, divides us.

Day to day in all sectors you can see ‘talks breaking down’, not because there is anything overly wrong with the content but because of a ‘personality’ issue. It is endemic that people become invested in a role, job or title and begin to see any change as a threat to that investment … it seems what defines, us divides us.

Interestingly enough, this is also seen on a community, national and international level, where people become overly invested in a certain national or cultural identity and the result is either a willingness to ‘tolerate’ others, a desire to change them or an outright protectionist approach… again what defines us, divides us.

Throw in a crisis or natural disaster and for the most part, these constructed barriers get dropped and some truly amazing things get achieved. But give us time and space to ‘think’ about it and how we look becomes more important that what we achieve.

Looking at this, it seems that the biggest barrier to ‘changing the world’ is changing the mind set of the people. As an engagement practitioner, this phenomenon is intriguing to explore. As a member of the human race, it’s a bit more frightening!

Try this activity… think about how you introduce yourself to others.

Now delete any part of that introduction that refers to your social standing, profession, job title, family of origin, marital or family status, culture, hobbies etc … is there anything left?

If we allow ourselves to drop the external things we use to define us, it is possible to appreciate the qualities people bring to any situation, regardless of their job, hobby, family role or cultural persuasion.

There are people who can bring detail to life, people who can lifting things out of the detail, the fact is both are needed. People who know how to bring truth to a situation and people who can deliver that truth in a way that doesn’t hit others over the head.

To get past the barriers created by an externally shaped identity starts with appreciating the quality you and others bring. It makes sense that you would feel defensive if something you have worked years to achieve is being challenged. Yet if we are appreciating your quality it is somehow less threatening.

For example, if two people are talk about a project and one says “the CEO is not going to like this”. There is a reasonable chance that they are going to become defensive. Instead, what if the conversation went something like - “You have an amazing ability with detail and I can see the time this have taken, for the CEO sign off on what you're suggesting, we need to put it into language they will understand. Let’s work with Bob, who is great at converting detail into CEO speak.”

When people are appreciated for their quality it becomes less threatening to collaborate, as each contribution has a value…and the majority of times, contribution does have a value.

The key though is that we can’t expect others to make the first move or expect it to be there when you need it. Appreciation is something we live and also need to apply to ourselves. It is much harder if not impossible to see and appreciate these qualities in others.

So what do you appreciate about what you bring?


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