Seeing differences differently

Your human nature can prevent you from being open to diversity and differences, but you can learn to overcome this. Diversity is a strength—of this nation and its military—and navigating differences in beliefs, values, and perceptions begins with challenging your own assumptions about how you see others and the world. However, despite living in an increasingly global environment characterized by ever-broadening horizons, many still struggle with viewing differences as an asset to be explored rather than a weakness to be fixed. HPRC offers a few strategies to help raise your self-awareness and promote openness, accuracy, and flexibility.

Everyone is biased

Our perceptions of the world are born of our upbringing and life experiences, and they are often tied to deeply held beliefs and values. Because of this, it’s important to understand that each of us sees the world through a different lens.

  • Strategy: Practice empathy. Reflect on how your experiences have shaped your perspective, and consider how others might have come to see things from a different perspective. What seems irrational to you might make perfect sense to someone else—and vice versa. Seek to understand before you pass judgment—or perhaps just choose to accept.

You are not always right

Your brain is programmed to take shortcuts, which at times can be helpful, but it also can lead to undesirable outcomes when left unchecked. These thinking traps can help you evaluate ambiguity and make quick decisions, but they also can block your ability to accurately assess people and situations.

  • Strategy: Slow down. It’s hard to know when you’re on autopilot, so when accuracy matters, take a tactical pause to make sure you have all the information you need to make an assessment of someone or something. Ask questions or seek more information before drawing conclusions.

Your brain doesn’t help

Our brains are influenced by what’s known as the “confirmation bias.” This bias causes us to notice, remember, and weigh information in a way that tends to confirm our existing beliefs. At the same time, it leads us to not notice, not remember, and not give weight to information that goes against our beliefs. Once you form initial beliefs about a person or group of people, it can be really difficult to change such beliefs unless you become aware of how your brain unintentionally filters information.

  • Strategy: Check your assumptions and be open to being wrong. Human beings don’t like being wrong or changing their minds. So when you seek information, you’re likely (quite unconsciously) to ask leading questions that will only get you more evidence to support your initial belief. Learn how to ask fair, open questions, how to be more objective by relying on concrete data and facts, and then make an earnest effort to prove yourself wrong.

Your emotions get in the way

As a human being, your emotions can cloud logical thinking, hinder effective decision-making, and impair judgment. Emotions are accompanied by sometimes distressing physiological changes that fuel even more inaccurate thinking.

  • Strategy: Practice self-regulation. Use strong emotions as a signal that you need to think more critically and carefully when there’s a lot at stake. When the physiology that comes with emotions is overwhelming, learn how to calm down using breathing techniques or learning about the connections between your thoughts, emotions, and physiology, so that you can remain open and composed.

Tolerance and acceptance of diversity in the world begins first with an understanding of yourself. Try these strategies to open up and see differences differently. It can help you perform optimally, reduce conflict, communicate more openly, and enhance relationships with those around you.

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