One thing is certain in any business – not everyone you have to deal with will be like you, or will like you (and vice versa). These people may include one of your business partners, an investor, a key vendor, or even one of your best customers. In my role as a business advisor, I see more and more how business people must bridge these differences to accomplish shared business goals.
We have all heard the stories of business disasters that result from people who are so different that they can’t get along. Some of these are legendary, including the Steve Jobs differences with John Sculley. Some are more current, such as the travails of Uber investors challenging founder Travis Kalanick, and the daily political leadership struggles surrounding President Donald Trump.
On a more positive note, as the business world becomes a global space, all of us have to learn to live and work with people of very different cultures, religions, political opinions, as well as different generations and genders. You have to manage and operate within more and more diverse teams, and your success in a career, or in building your business, depends on it.
Thus I was pleased to see these challenges addressed directly in a new book, “How to Work With and Lead People Not Like You,” by Kelly McDonald, a well-known marketing and communications expert who specializes in multicultural and diversity marketing. She offers a set of strategies and tools for communicating across cultural and other barriers, including people you don’t like:
- Understand that they’re not trying to be difficult. Most people you have to deal with in starting and running a business are just being who they are. They are behaving the way they were socialized – the sum of how they were raised, cultural influences, and the dynamics of previous roles. Don’t let your emotion or theirs impede communication.
- Don’t try to change them – be civil and diplomatic. People can change themselves, but you can’t change them. Whatever their demeanor is toward you (or your business), remain positive and professional, and treat the other person with courtesy and respect. Do not allow tension to escalate, and your blood pressure and sanity will thank you for it.
- Adjust your expectations that everyone thinks like you. Business people come from different backgrounds and experiences, so don’t expect their behavior and opinions to always mesh with yours. Accept that there are very few absolute rights and wrongs in business, so expect different viewpoints, and don’t allow anyone to push your buttons.
- Focus on the business at hand and getting results. You are there to do a job, and so are they. Successful work relationships don’t have to be rooted in liking each other. Focus on the outcome you are seeking and what you and your counterpart need to do to get there. Success is about cooperation, respect, solving problems and working together.
- Agree to disagree without being judgmental. Saying “I see it differently” is neither judgmental nor combative, and it doesn’t mean you are trying to “win the argument” or persuade the other person to change their opinion. It diffuses tension and can lead to constructive conversation that allows you and your peers to work together productively.
In all cases, it’s important to be positive and maintain a can-do attitude. People avoid negativity and they are drawn to positivity. You can become a role model, a leader, and an ally for many team members which will lead to breakthroughs and results with even the most non-compatible situations. A positive mental attitude will also improve your health, and add years to your life.
Just remember that you have a business or a career to run. Experts are convinced that a diverse workforce, including people with different values and different perspectives, leads to better decisions and solutions – ultimately growing business opportunities, profits, and satisfaction. Diversity isn’t going away. Learn to deal with it now, and be the leader you always wanted to be.