Managing teams composed of people who are similar isn’t always easy. But add in diverse members and it can be even more challenging! However, the benefits from the diverse perspectives, skills, and abilities are worth it.39 Four interper- sonal factors are important for meeting the challenge of coordinating a diverse work team: understanding, empathy, tolerance, and communication.
You know that people aren’t the same, yet they need to be treated fairly and equitably. And differences (cultural, physical, or other) can cause people to behave in different ways. You need to understand and accept these differ- ences and encourage each team member to do the same.
Empathy is closely related to understanding. As a team leader, you should try to understand others’ perspectives. Put yourself in their place and encourage team members to empathize as well. For instance, suppose an Asian woman joins a team of Caucasian and Hispanic men. They can make her feel more welcome and comfortable by identifying with how she might feel. Is she excited or disappointed about her new work assignment? What were
her previous work experiences? How can they help her feel more comfortable? By empathizing with her, existing team members can work together better as an effective group.
Tolerance is another important interpersonal considera- tion. Just because you understand that people are different and you empathize with them doesn’t mean that it’s any easier to accept different perspectives or behaviors. But it’s important to be tolerant and open-minded about different values, attitudes, and behaviors.
Finally, open and two-way communication is important to managing a diverse team. Diversity problems may inten- sify if people are afraid or unwilling to openly discuss issues that concern them. If a person wants to know whether a certain behavior is offensive to someone else, it’s best to ask. Likewise, a person who is offended by another’s behavior should explain his or her concerns and ask that person to stop. Such communication exchanges can be positive when they’re handled in a nonthreatening, low-key, and friendly manner.