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July, 2012

How well do you accept differences? 


Like many Americans, I have been consumed this week by the news of James Holmes and the victims at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater.


It is so difficult to understand.


What can possibly lead someone to do this?


There have been some initial speculations about the "tipping points" that may have set some of James' horrific actions into motion.  They have to do with an intense feeling of nonacceptance.


Interestingly, in the Sunday New York Times this past weekend, there was also an article about Greg Ousley who at age 14 murdered his parents.  Now at age 33 he reflects with remorse from prison about what led him to do what he did that day so long ago.


He states that it had to do with an intense feeling of nonacceptance by his parents.


While extreme, these two examples highlight our human need for acceptance and the power it holds on behavior.  Certainly the absence of acceptance does not mean that one would be drawn to commit such horrific crimes, however recognizing the importance of acceptance is essential when managing and leading others. 


As a leadership tool, it is one of the most effective ways to build diverse teams and to attain the best from people...by showing acceptance.


Yet it is incredibly difficult to show acceptance in the face of difference


After all, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be, we are most comfortable and thus more accepting of others who are most like us.  It is human nature.  We just have to work that much harder to suspend judgment and find points of connection with those who are at opposite ends.


I find this most intriguing when observing people who work across functions.  Just imagine the technical and scientific person who conducts controlled research studies to gather facts.  They are careful when using these facts and numbers by ensuring their validity and accuracy.  Now imagine this person interacting with a sales person who is more likely to throw out suppositions and estimates in a "what if we were to do it this way" fashion.  


Both people in this scenario bring unique strengths, but in the face of each other they often don't see the complementary brilliance; they see obstacles.  They see fallacy and deficiency in each other.


As a result, they don't accept each other.  They both miss out on the others' brilliance and are left feeling frustrated and unappreciated..


These scenarios can play out at home as well.  Since parenting is often my analogy to leadership, I see how difficult it is to consistently accept my daughter for the differences we have between us. 

  • I am outgoing.  She is reserved.
  • I am outspoken.  She is quiet.
  • I love fashion and clothes.  She could care less what she wears.

And the list goes on.  And, she is only 8!


What I have learned about acceptance is that it is not about having to be in agreement.  When you accept someone's differences, you simply suspend the idea of trying to convince them of being another way.  You may not agree with their way, but you simply allow it to be as it is. 


It's not easy.  I do catch myself from time to time when I am asking her to speak up, make friends or dress appropriately.  I just have to work hard to be aware of what and how I am saying things to ensure it's not too frequent.


In the workplace, it is equally as difficult.  


Working with differences is at an all-time high in today's business world.  It is beyond the functional differences described above because there are now four generations in the workplace, increasing gender and ethnic diversity at all levels, geographical differences and business on a global scale.  Accepting different ways to tackle problems, create solutions or innovate new approaches requires a whole new level of acceptance in the workplace today. 


Here are some key points to keep in mind when you find yourself face-to-face with someone so different you really wish they could just see it your way: 

  1. Before focusing on the ways they are flawed, find their strengths. Oftentimes their strengths will be in an area where you are lacking.  
  2. Find ways to leverage their strengths when interacting with them.
  3. Accept their flaws.  Nobody is comprised of just strengths. 
  4. Leverage your strengths when dealing with them, but don't seek to convince or change them to adopt your way.

I don't believe we intentionally try to make people feel unaccepted. 


Usually we have pressing goals or objectives, like raising great kids or getting the job done by its deadline, that are threatened when faced with differences. Time, urgency, fear and our own limitations can often make it difficult to accept others' differences.


However, there is no doubt that in our increasingly complex world today, the need for acceptance is high.  Whether it be with parenting or leadership, I hope you are inspired to do your part in accepting differences both at home and at work.  


Learn ways to "stretch your bandwidth" and close the gap between differences by finding out where your behaviors are most extreme and unyielding with The Birkman Method.

Register Here. 


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Are you interested in developing yourself as a better leader and understanding what your next step should be? Consider one-on-one business coaching to help you get clear on what's next and how to position yourself for success. Contact Laura for some customized and personalized coaching.   


Laura Lopez is an award-winning author of The Connected and Committed Leader.  She is also a consultant, and a Birkman Method certified business coach who has been featured on the Today Show ,Latina Voices Smart Talk, Living Smart and Fox News


In addition, her accomplishments have been highlighted in several business periodicals including  Personal Excellence, The Long Beach Business Journal, The Houston Chronicle, Latina Magazine, and Central Valley Business Times. Her articles on management and leadership are regularly seen in Leadership Excellence. 

Laura can be contacted via her Web site at:


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All the best,
Laura Lopez
Laura Lopez & Company
(713) 868-5025
cell (713) 828-8829