Values are the core beliefs that guide people’s behaviors and interpretations of the world. We see the world through the prism of our own values, which function as an inner compass and help us determine what is right and wrong, especially in the absence of an external moral code. Without our values, we would be lost. And there would be no cultural, generational, or personal differences between people. Life would be a lot more homogeneous, predictable, and boring.
It would also be a lot simpler.
Many of the problems we have at work and in life come from having too much rather than too little diversity around values. As individualism (itself a meta-value) increases, cultural values become commoditized, personalized, and tribalized. We use values to make important “identity claims.” They signal our beliefs and affiliations to the world. Above all, we use them as a frame of reference to connect and develop relations with others at work and in other areas of life.
We like people who share our values because they provide external validation for how we define ourselves. Liking people who think and act like us is a discrete tactic to unleash our own narcissistic tendencies. It explains why managers often hire and promote on their own image, why couples look like each other, why friends and spouses become more alike as they spend more time together, and why dogs often look like their owners (this is not merely anecdotal).
But if you want to live in an inclusive world that harnesses the power of psychological diversity, then you have to learn to accept, tolerate, and perhaps even embrace those who don’t share your values. It is easy to spend your life with people who think like you. Yet hanging out with like-minded people is the opposite of open-mindedness. It signals a reluctance to learn and grow, and a false sense of security about your own values, perhaps because you are afraid to have them challenged as they are the core definition of yourself, or you fear that they are too fragile to hold when exposed to a different form of thinking.
With that, here are four simple tips for accepting people who don’t think like you, and enriching the cognitive diversity of your own networks and life.
Choose to learn
If you step back and think about the conversation as an opportunity to learn versus the need to defend, it helps open the aperture into a dialogue vs a debate. Somewhere along life’s path (we usually refer to this as getting older) learning is replaced with knowledge, yet if we make the choice to continuously learn from other’s perspectives, learning can be lifelong, and knowledge can grow vs. sustain. Consider that openness to experience—the degree to which you are interested in exploring new ideas, nurturing your hungry mind, and replacing routine with unconventional and unfamiliar adventures—decreases as we get older. The more we know, the less interested we are in learning something new. As Lisa Feldman Barrett notes in her recent book, our brains are not for thinking: they are for saving energy and turning decision into autopilot mode.
Recognize that seeking to understand does not mean agreement
It’s okay to want to listen and learn and still hold onto your own beliefs and values. The act of listening doesn’t indicate agreement. In fact, it is a lot easier to agree when we don’t listen to one another. Remember that the difference between judging and pre-judging is understanding and that in order to understand you really need to be willing to listen and learn. There is something truly powerful about seeing things from someone else’s perspective and being able to understand and accept them even if you see things differently. And as Churchill famously noted, “When two people agree with each other, one of them is unnecessary.”
Embrace curiosity and patience yet acknowledge emotion
Values is a “big” word as values are intricately linked to our self-concept and identity. Curiosity seeks out understanding and acknowledges and often embraces difference. Emotion likely won’t be removed from values conversations, yet acknowledging it and choosing to lead with curiosity keeps the lines of communication open.
Patience is also required when managing emotion as we want to jump in, cut the other person off, express our views. Resist that urge and allow for each individual to share their truth. Be patient and wait for the opportunity to share yours. There is something for everyone to learn in the middle.
Stay active in the conversation
Recently, one of us was sitting at the dinner table with college-aged daughters having a heated debate on their own values. While emotions were definitely present, no one “walked away” in frustration and no one sat “passive-aggressively” while the other spoke. Yes, voices became louder during the dialogue as there were major differences in beliefs, yet everyone stayed at the table when it would have been much easier to leave.
By staying in the dialogue, we learned, and we demonstrated respect, even though there was definitely not agreement. Wanting to be heard is a value we all desire, yet it requires working on the reciprocal behavior of listening and staying engaged.
Discussing values can be seen as taboo or we can choose to see it as the ultimate signal of respect for what an individual brings into your life: cognitive diversity which can create something better than sameness.
The path to accepting differences in values begins with the mindset of learning, a recognition that listening does not equal agreement, the curiosity and patience to listen to a different point of view. Finally, it requires the discipline to stay in the dialogue even when what’s being said doesn’t reflect your personal values. Stay in the dialogue because it doesn’t reflect your personal values. You’ll discover there is rich learning about your differences and likely more similarities than you initially realized existed.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzik, PhD, is the chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup and a professor of Business Psychology at Columbia University and University College London. He is the author of Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? And How to Fix It.
Becky Frankiewicz is the president of ManpowerGroup North America and a labor market expert. Prior to that, she led one of PepsiCo’s largest subsidiaries, Quaker Foods North America, and was named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People. Find her on Twitter @beckyfrankly.