When someone leaves your company and you know there will be a newcomer replacing them, what questions go through your mind? Your overall feelings may well depend on how you felt about the person leaving – relief, sadness, respect, annoyance, acceptance?
It’s that word “acceptance” which is so essential in our increasingly diverse workplaces. True acceptance requires us to use the resilience skill of empathy, seeing things from someone else’s perspective. Although this comes more naturally to some than others, like other resilience skills, it is something we can all develop.
Despite our inherent and attained differences, tolerance allows us to keep an open mind in our dealings with those who are not the same as us. That phrase many of us will remember being drummed into us from parents or schoolteachers still holds true, “Treat others the way you would want to be treated”. If we’re honest, it’s what we hope to experience whenever we encounter a new environment.
A tolerant workplace will see this being practised daily. As in all good relationships, communication plays an important part and it needs to be a two-way street. Not only do we need to appreciate that our values, opinions and beliefs may not be shared with our colleagues, but that those differences have the potential to obstruct rather than strengthen our workplace relationships. We know the joy that good working relationships can bring, but many of us have also experienced the problems and unpleasant feelings which often escalate when disagreements arise and are poorly handled.
Seeing tolerance being openly practised within a team is a constant reminder that, although it is our individual responsibility, it can be strengthened by organisational initiatives. Those in leadership roles play an important part in creating an inclusive and diverse workplace. Hearing a manager express intolerant views can not only be divisive to others, as to what is acceptable in the organisation, but can lead to an undercurrent of resentment.
The benefits of a tolerant workplace have been found to be far-reaching and include:
- A more positive environment with more open communication
- A more creative and innovative spirit to problem-solving and decision making
- More effective teamwork encouraged by an open exchange of ideas
- A greater sense of loyalty with natural retention of staff and less absenteeism
- A larger pool of talent to recruit from and a reputation as an employer of choice
- Greater respect and trust between those at all levels
Actions which can be taken to encourage a tolerant workplace are numerous and include:
- Helping people to learn about each other, as judgements are often made due to a lack of knowledge. For example, you could invite a speaker to a meeting who has suffered intolerance and ask them to share their story.
- Encourage staff to increase their listening skills and to think carefully before talking about sensitive subjects, highlighting how words can be interpreted differently by each one of us.
- Making it clear that it is important to challenge what is felt by individuals to be unacceptable behaviour and/or actions.
- Ensure it is clear in staff handbooks, policies and practice that a tolerant workplace does not extend to tolerating any words, behaviours or actions that society today finds legally, morally and/or ethically unacceptable.
“When we seek to discover the best in others, we bring out the best in ourselves”
William Arthur Ward
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