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The Positive Power of Difference

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

I was recently reminded of the work of Nancy Kline and her famous book Time to Think.

In it, Nancy outlines ten behaviours that generate the finest thinking, one of them being ‘Difference’.

She says:

‘The greater the diversity of the group, and the greater the welcoming of different points of view, the greater the chance of accurate, cutting-edge thinking.”
Reality is diverse. Therefore, to think well we need to be in as real, as diverse, a setting as possible.
We need to be surrounded by people from many identity groups, and we need to know that there will be no reprisal for thinking differently from the rest of the group.

It feels apt during Black History Month to consider the positive power of difference.

Welcoming Diverse Perspectives

I often work with leaders in organisations who want to create inclusive teams and organisations where all of their staff feel a sense of belonging and can thrive.

In order to make this happen leaders need to welcome diverse perspectives, that may challenge their thinking and accept that those perspectives may be delivered in ways that leaders experience as unconventional.

Letting go of preconceived notions of what right looks and sounds like and being open to hearing the message can be a hard skill to learn.

To not judge too quickly and not to punish the person who speaks their truth.

For example, before flagging up a Black female colleague or employee’s tone, ask yourself this: are you focusing more on the way she is speaking rather than what she is saying?

Shifting our Thinking

We all have well-trodden pathways in our brains that have helped us make quick decisions and sort through the plethora of information that we receive each day.

To unlearn what has served us for a long time is not easy, but it is possible if you are motivated to do so.

After all, we once believed smoking to be good for us, used encyclopaedias instead of searching the internet for everything and thought sunbeds were a good thing.

Most of us have shifted our thinking and habits based on more recent information. The same can be done to unlock the positive power of difference.

To unlock the positive power of difference you need to shift in 3 ways listed below, and move from:

Hubris to Humility

According to research, humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included. It requires you to really listen to feedback and accept that you have prejudices, flaws and shortcomings, which you are willing to work on.

Dismissive to Appreciative

Dismissing comments from colleagues can demotivate, demoralise and invalidate their feelings. Instead, you can thank and appreciate and say things like ‘thank you for your challenge’ or ‘thanks for that different perspective let’s take 5 mins to explore it’ or even ‘that’s really challenged how I see the world, can I sleep on it and come back to you tomorrow.’

Punishment to Reward

It generally takes courage and positive intent for someone to share their truth with you, if when they do, they are then punished for it, they may hold back from doing so again.

You could reward the person with acknowledgement and say, ‘your contribution has opened my eyes', or ‘I think more people need to hear this perspective.’

Not just Time to Think, but Time to Change

Without these behavioural shifts to appreciate difference, teams and organisations become bereft of ideas. They continue echoing the same thoughts and staff don’t contribute for fear of repercussions.

We need creativity, compassion and a collective approach now more than ever, this isn’t just Time to Think as Nancy Kline says, but Time to Change!

If you want to take this thinking into your organisation, take a look at some of the services we offer, or get in touch to discuss your needs.

We will create a bespoke programme of interventions to suit your needs.


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