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Harmony vs Diversity – Why the Mutual Pursuit will Result in Conflict?

Intuitively most of us are wired to achieve an outcome of harmony. Human beings inherently dislike conflict and the desire to bring relationships, teams and families back into a state of harmony unconsciously drives much of our behavior. In fact many of us will compromise personal success in the pursuit of harmony.

I see this intention to maintain harmony drive much thinking such as;

  • I won’t give that feedback as I don’t want to upset John (even though it would actually help him)

  • I won’t disagree with my manager (even though I think there is a better way) as he may think less of me

  • I won’t share my concerns about my colleagues or how our team runs (in case this triggers conflict)

Whilst the ‘pick your battles’ concept is an important thought process, a ‘harmony no matter what the costs’ approach stifles innovation, creativity and progress. Enter Diversity.

By definition, Diversity encourages varied thinking, contradictions in approaches, thoughts and possibly outcomes. The more diversity we have the more potential ‘dis-harmony’ we will be required to manage and whilst consciously many organisations think they have the skills and desire to manage this, unconsciously most time and energy poor leaders would prefer the easy way out.

Take for example John a CEO of a large listed organisation. John leads a team of 8 executives, one of whom is female which is higher than current results in the ASX200 where women represent 10% of key management personnel. John’s CFO has decided to move on and when recruiting for a replacement the idea of a strong, experienced female who can shake things up a little is appealing. Whilst the number of viable female candidates with the right skills & experience is lower than the male contenders, the final shortlist of two has one female and one male candidate. All things being equal how do you make a decision?

  • Do you employ the women purely because she is female and diversity is a priority? That doesn’t feel right

  • Do you select the individual who s likely to be the best culture fit? Probably unhelpful as John is likely to feel that the male candidate will fit into the executive team better as they are ‘used to’ collaborating with the old male CFO as is John.

Whilst it is rare that an ‘all things being equal’ situation is likely to occur with candidates of such a senior nature, the impact of unconscious bias and a desire for harmony vs disruption are strong forces in our decision making processes.

Here presents an opportunity to build awareness around how unconscious bias impacts our decision-making. That is, bring the unconscious to our conscious combined with building the capabilities of leaders to constructively communicate and collaborate within diverse teams. This will help navigate the competing tensions of these two important outcomes in our organisations – Harmony and Diversity.

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