I was at a cultural heritage museum showcasing South Indian culture yesterday that had an interesting sign next to a collection of preserved musical instruments. It explained that it was common for temples in Tamil Nadu to have loud (live) background music during prayer to drown out noises of people talking.
I thought this was fascinating. In most other parts of the world, you’d probably experience a few angry stares or murmurs if you made noise at a place where people need to focus. But, here, someone decided that the better approach was to just drown people’s voices out. As a result, it makes for a unique prayer experience – instead of the customary silence, you have loud music throughout.
Nuances like this make the idea of diversity so fascinating. As I wrote in my essay on diversity and inclusion, getting diversity right in organizations is incredibly hard. Diversity goes beyond the idea of diversity on the surface, e.g. gender and race. When cultural norms differ, it can make understanding the opposite person’s point of view rather difficult. And, if understanding doesn’t come about, trust will be non existent.
The best guideline I’ve come across in dealing with difference and diversity is Stephen Covey’s ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ This isn’t easy. But, it is the only way you can get past the noise to understand why people behave the way they do.
A final note – I’m not of the belief that getting past basic cultural barriers will make everyone a great co-worker. But, that said, if we find compatibility on core beliefs and then learn to build on different perspectives, the research has repeatedly shown that the results are likely to be outstanding.