As I write this post, I am sitting in an office in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia. Tonight I speak to a group of business owners in Brisbane (about 2 hours by car). This is not my first opportunity to work with people in a different country. To date, I have worked in Canada, Germany, England, Scotland, Switzerland, Holland, China, Thailand, Taiwan and now — Australia. This trip has triggered a thought for me that directly affects our approaches to resolving conflict with people at work and at home.
In driving through Queensland and working with various people here, I am struck by many things. The country side looks like other places I have been, and it is also different. The buildings look like other places I have been, and they are different. The businesses are like others I have visited in the past, and they are different.
The differences create energy and enthusiasm for me on this trip. They give me something to focus on as I work to gain greater understanding of this beautiful country, its culture, and its people. The differences provide learning opportunities.
In conversation, it’s even a bit fun to joke and laugh about the differences. I have enjoyed lively banter about how Australians and Americans are different.
In jest, it’s fun to talk about our differences. In conflict, focusing on differences can destroy the relationship and ultimately the team.
As I look around Australia and reflect on my experiences in other places with other people and cultures, I realize that we have many more similarities than differences. If we have more similarities across the world than we do differences, I think the same is probably true with the people we work and live with on a daily basis.
The differences between us bring spark and energy to the team. They show us different perspectives and approaches to the many situations we address every day. They provide opportunities to learn from each other. They can also create discord and strife if we focus on them too strongly.
So, here’s my closing thought from “down under.” The next time you find yourself in a conflict with a co-worker, family member, or fellow volunteer — look for your similarities. The differences will be pretty obvious. You may feel tempted to focus on them because they frustrate you. Resist this urge. Look for similarities. Look for common ground. That’s where you will likely find the way forward to resolve your conflict.