4 tips for connecting with co-workers despite your differences

Find common ground and you’ll find yourself happier and more successful on the job.

4 tips for connecting with co-workers despite your differences

April is Celebrate Diversity Month, so I went out to find ways employees can embrace diversity at a grassroots level by connecting with co-workers who are different from them. That includes those from different backgrounds, religions and generations. It also includes those who have different politics, values and interests.

Here are four tips for connecting with co-workers despite whatever differences you may have.

Begin with the basics

Showing common courtesy demonstrates a basic respect for others that can be built upon over time. Even if you don’t know how to make conversation with colleagues you don’t have much in common with just yet, you can still acknowledge them.

“Using common courtesy such as saying ‘good morning’ and ‘good evening’ or offering your co-workers a simple smile are great ways of practicing office etiquette,” says Denise Douthard, COO of Polishing the Professional.

Look for common ground

There’s one thing you definitely have in common: your employer. “One easy way to seek common ground is to ask your co-workers what they like best about their jobs and working for your company,” says Jene Kapela, owner and founder of coaching and consulting firm Jene Kapela Leadership Solutions.

This doesn’t mean you should start sharing office gossip, but making conversation about work is a chance to understand your co-workers’ goals the organization and how they feel about where your business is headed. “Most likely they are there for reasons similar to yours,” says Kapela.

Be a good listener

Recognize how valuable diversity is to your understanding of your colleagues and your clients. “Many workplaces are diverse today, which is ideal because most customer bases are diverse, as well. The tool for connecting with people who appear unlike us is conversation and the essential mindset is to be curious and non-judgmental,” says career coach Joanne Deck.  Connecting is easy once you hit upon what matters to others.

“Listening for what people like or feel passionate about can make it easier to connect, as these are things people enjoy talking about,” Deck says. “Food, hometown, pets, and children/grandchildren can be effective ice-breaking topics. Finally, [Stephen] Covey put it so well, ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’”

Make an effort outside the office

Having a good relationship with people you work closely with on a regular basis will bring positivity and motivation to your work, which is why you should consider attempting to build bridges with your co-workers both in the office and out. “Go to lunch, meet for coffee, go bowling...anything to get out of the rut of everyday work and have conversations that are different,” says Stacy Lindenberg, owner of Talent Seed Consulting, LLC.

You might have fundamental disagreements about an upcoming election or stumble over ingrained cultural practices and ways of interacting, but the act of reaching out to someone is often enough to make those differences surmountable in terms of making a connections. Seriously, forget about ballots and go bowling. “This opens opportunities for meaningful conversation or simply sharing a laugh,” says Lindenberg.