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Addressing Diversity Issues in Setting Expectations

Assumptions are natural human tendencies; we rely on our experiences and beliefs to interpret the world around us. In a diverse workplace, these assumptions can be rooted in cultural, gender, or generational differences. For instance, assuming that a team member from a different cultural background shares the same communication style can lead to unrealistic expectations. Such assumptions can create a significant gap between what is expected and what can realistically be delivered, leading to frustration, decreased morale, and ultimately, reduced productivity.

These differences go well beyond gender, race, or age. Socioeconomic diversity, economic diversity, and educational diversity all play a part (as well as many other things).

For example, my wife and I grew up in different cities. While only about 90 miles apart, there were a lot of differences in language and communication that were a part of our upbringings. At one point, she was relaying a story and said “I was driving 240 to get there on time”. I freaked out - there was no way her car could go that fast and if it did, that was dangerous. I stopped listening to the rest of the story because I was so focused on that. It wasn’t until later that I learned that “240” was a phrase from her regional area that simply meant “going fast”. Imagine if she used that phrase in a work setting, how much confusion could it cause?

Here are some things you can do to ensure your team doesn’t have issues with setting expectations because of diversity issues.

  1. Avoid slang or catch phrases - This will mean focusing on your language more and being aware of phrases that you use subconsciously, but it will help avoid confusion. This is especially true if you work with a remote workforce that may have people in different countries.

  2. Ask - Spend time asking if you are using any language that might be normal to you, but not clear to them. Also ask about language and things from their background that might be interesting. FYI - I later found out that “240” is also used a one of the lesser used verses in a Christmas carol.

  3. After action reviews (AAR) - This doesn’t have to be formal, but if an expectation isn’t met, consider how it was addressed. Was there something that you said or did that could have been interpreted differently from someone with a different background.

Diversity can be a tremendous asset for any organization, but only if managed effectively. By acknowledging and addressing assumptions related to cultural, gender, and generational differences, organizations can set realistic expectations, foster open communication, and leverage the full potential of their diverse workforce. As a manager, it is your responsibility to guide organizations in navigating these challenges, ensuring that diversity becomes a source of strength and innovation rather than a barrier to success.

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