By Paul Pelletier
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou
In our highly diverse dental offices, diversity intelligence is critical to success. Dental practice owners and office managers who leverage diversity to develop, motivate and empower staff to achieve extraordinary results aren’t acting randomly. They use diversity intelligence (DI) to create a collaborative, inclusive and engaging dental office environment, and inspire staff and patients.
One of the most effective ways to improve diversity intelligence is by understanding and overcoming our diversity “blind spots.” This requires both self-awareness and a deeper appreciation that diversity goes well beyond the obvious surface characteristics of people.
A Review – What is Diversity Intelligence?
DI is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual. The concept of diversity intelligence encompasses acceptance and respect.
By integrating staff from culturally diverse backgrounds, dental practices become stronger and more profitable. This is especially true as we interact with patients from different cultures and backgrounds.
The Diversity Iceberg
We tend (often without even knowing it) to regard diversity through the lens of the most obvious physical traits of those around us. For example, we categorize people by virtue of their age, gender, and race. But physical attributes like skin colour are only a small part of the diversity picture. Behavioral psychologists use “the Diversity Iceberg” to demonstrate this problem, where visible traits like race, gender and other physical attributes sit at the top above the waterline, while a larger portion of non-visible characteristics lurk below.
The Diversity Iceberg is a marvelous tool to assist in improving our diversity intelligence. The key point of the iceberg is that the core of our identity is made up of the dimensions that exist below the surface. These buried qualities are critical to our individuality and provide the actual essence of diversity.
Our Diversity Blind Spots
Uncovering our personal biases, prejudices and “diversity blind spots” is essential to improving diversity intelligence. First, let’s acknowledge that we find comfort in hanging out with similar people. Whether it’s an ethnic community, a religious connection or our political views, our instinct is to surround ourselves and hire those like us. Beware – these comfort zones can easily lead to group think – with only one predominant perspective, tunnel vision is natural.
It is also normal behavior to analyze and categorize people so that we can determine where they “fit” in our world. Unfortunately, our categorization processes often involve making presumptions about people based on our pre-conceived biases. For example, when we find out a person is from a particular ethnicity, we may assume they automatically like a particular kind of food or speak another language. This is what I call a “diversity blind spot.” A blind spot represents either a lack of diversity awareness, prejudice, or inaccurate preconceived notions about people.
Blind spots lead to embarrassing workplace moments and inevitably lead to misunderstandings and conflicts. They reduce staff engagement and negatively impact practice success. It takes effort and character to see beyond our box and respectfully embrace cultures that differ from ours. Dental practices with advanced diversity intelligence have a deep awareness of their biases and adopt strategies to counter our tendencies to judge too quickly.
It’s Not About You
Solving the diversity equation is no easy task. In addition to our own blind spots, we must remember that every patient and person we work with has their own conditioning and biases. Dental practitioners should constantly make a concerted effort to be more approachable – in simple terms, make it easier for those who might be uncomfortable interacting with you. Think about their diversity comfort zones and blind spots. Open up conversations that dispel their fears, erase their pre-conceived notions and genuinely prove you are interested in whom they really are (below the iceberg’s surface). Focus on “them” rather than on “you.” By working on helping others gain confidence communicating with you, you’ll also become more comfortable interacting with those different from you.
Diversity intelligence provides dental professionals with strategic insight to understanding and engaging your patients and staff. Dental practices must develop high levels of diversity intelligence in order to inspire effectively. That environment is one that values relationships, personal growth, positive reinforcement, and brainstorming – a place where everyone’s ideas matter.
By appreciating our diversity blind spots and comfort zones and improving our communication strategies practices to focus on our patients, we improve our diversity intelligence. We grow and mature as leaders. Are you ready to eliminate your diversity blind spots?
- Al-Jenaibi, B. (2011). The scope and impact of workplace diversity in the United Arab Emirates an initial study. Journal for Communication and Culture. 1(2), 49-81.
- Amadeo, K. (2013). Cultural Diversity. Retrieved from http://useconomy.about.com/od/suppl1/g/Cultural- Diversity.htm.
- Białostocka, P. (2010). Cultural Diversity in Organisational Theory and Practice. Journal of Intercultural Management. 2(2), 5-15.
- Hinsen, Ben. (2016). Organizational Ergonomics: Workplace Diversity, Inclusion and Fusion. Retrieved from https://hickamsdictum.com/achieving-organizational-diversity-d7980e533b2a#.8wndrt3az
- Moore, T. W. (n.d.). Individual Differences and Workplace Spirituality: The Homogenization of the Corporate Culture. Journal of Management and Marketing Research. pp. 79-93.
Originally published in PM World Journal
Paul is a workplace diversity and respect consultant, international speaker, author, and corporate lawyer. His book “Workplace Bullying – It’s Just Bad for Business” is available on-line. His contact details are available on www.paulpelletierconsulting.com