Integrating diverse perspectives is not synonymous with compromise. Compromise is defined as “an agreement or settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions” (Merriam-Webster). Essentially, each party has to give something up in a compromise. While compromise may be one way to integrate diverse perspectives where there are incongruent goals, many times in cross-cultural situations the goals are not necessarily incongruent. They are simply not understood or fully explored, leading people to assume compromise is the only way forward.
To illustrate this common problem, we sometimes incorporate cross-cultural negotiation simulations into our workshops. One such negotiation involves two international food manufacturers who are keen on acquiring a larger percentage of the local orange harvest from the supplier. Quantities are limited, and so the supplier may readily think that the decision is who to sell the oranges to. One manufacturer is a long-time trusted business partner, while the other is a potential new partner who is willing to pay top dollar. With only this information at hand, many of our novice participants go straight to deal making. However, our more experienced participants often have the savvy to ask questions about the objectives of those manufacturers. By exploring each of the perspectives fully, participants come to find that one distributor wants the fruit of the oranges for juice, while the other wants the rinds of the oranges for producing orange extract. With this knowledge, it is now possible to have a conversation about how to provide sufficient product to both manufacturers. Furthermore, participants discover that integrating diverse perspectives in this case ends up generating a much higher revenue for the supplier as well.
Here are four key actions you can take to become more savvy in integrating diverse perspectives in your organization:
- Invite team members to share their perspectives in their own ways. In cross-cultural teams, it is important to actively solicit each individual’s views in culturally appropriate ways. For instance, some individuals will be comfortable sharing in a group setting, while others may prefer more discrete avenues for sharing their views. As the facilitator of a team discussion, this will mean thoughtful planning about how to gather views and share them in a way that involves all team members. Simply forcing a group discussion with the expectation that everyone participate does not promote inclusivity across cultures.
- Foster inclusive team discussions by taking a break. The pressures of time and expectations in organizations may push team members to inadvertently prioritize finding solutions over understanding all viewpoints involved. It may be helpful to hold separate sessions, first to hear all view points and then to identify solutions. This physical break between the two can help the team focus on one objective at a time and provide time in between for the reflection and Q&A needed to really understand diverse perspectives.
- Work toward consensus on shared goals and decision-making criteria. Before the quest for solutions begins, it is helpful to involve the team in identifying shared goals and criteria for decision-making. This consensus will be a key driver for engagement in the long-run. Without consensus, the parties who do not agree or are not fully satisfied are unlikely to put their energy and resources into the final plans. It is common for our clients to share stories of how their cross-cultural business partners are not driven or seem apathetic. When we discuss the situations further, there is generally evidence that they were not fully on board at the time decisions were made for the particular projects in question. So, in actuality, the problem is not usually drive or apathy; it is lack of true consensus.
- Gain agreement on solutions through member-checking. Clearly, negotiations and other high-stakes agreements do not always turn out to be a win-win for everyone. However, it is important that those who are involved in or affected by the solution are committed to it. As potential solutions are identified, check-in with those who have alternative viewpoints to see how their needs could be either better integrated or otherwise satisfied. Working toward better integrating diverse perspectives, can open the door to more creative and inclusive solutions that inspire commitment.