Becoming effective in a diverse world is dependent on how much, how accurate and how quickly we learn about the unfamiliar. Diversity, by definition, means there is divergence in our beliefs, habits, values, and perspectives. To be effective in an environment where there are those kind of differences, we need to be continuous learners. The challenge is to keep that learning portal open as we become generally familiar with our environment.
When we first confront a new environment, our learning process mimics that of a baby or small child, who learns through approximation and is rewarded for any degree of conformity. As parents, we don’t let the children stop with an approximation, though. We understand they are learning and so we continue to model for them the right word, the right behavior or attitude until they reflect a more sophisticated conformity.
Similarly, as we adults encounter a diverse and new environment, we seek to understand what basically is asked of us so we can be “successful enough.” As soon as we understand the basics, and we are enabled by those in the new environment, we often stop there. We can deem that an average amount of cooperation by others is sufficient or saying the word in the foreign language well enough that the others understand is adequate. The important difference between the child learning from the parent and an adult who learns by observation from other adults is significant. Because we are an adult, the diverse others will not normally nurture us until we are exacting in our demonstration that we understand the new environment—we are, after all, not children!
But rarely does a basic level of familiarity and compliance on our part lead to the best response by those with whom we do not share native values, beliefs and perspectives. If we want to go beyond that, we need to keep learning.
If the diversity is represented by linguistic differences, that continued learning shows up in better pronunciation, more accurate vocabulary, or more appropriate slang. Such linguistic differences can be represented by country language but also by dialects or ethnic group variations of the same language. This can be represented within the Black community when one female calls another female “sister” instead of by her name, or when a member of Generation Z says something is “sick” instead of using the Baby boom generation term “bitchin.” For one member to fit well into the other member’s environment, the language usually needs to conform to the diversity of the environment.
Diversity can also be represented by a different value, such as a group-oriented focus vs. an individual-focused one. If we consider and consult the opinions of those around us, we reflect a more group focused mentality. Doing so, as a member of an individual-focused subculture, would normally lead to better cooperation and a more effective relationship with those group-focused members. But stopping short of learning what those members value and why they do what they do usually leads to a lesser amount of cooperation.
Becoming familiar with our diverse environment will rarely suffice. Being familiar is not the objective. Becoming effective is. And that requires continuous learning.
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