It means talking to people you don’t normally talk to. Listening to all the voices, not just the one that sounds like yours.
It’s natural to define ourselves by our differences, but key to leveraging the rewards of living in a diverse community is not letting the differences stand in the way of aligning around a shared purpose and values.
Presesenters Dena Hurst (instructor and researcher, Florida Institute of Government, FSU) and Jim Patrick (city manager, Storm Lake, IA) offered great insights about the benefits as well as challenges of leveraging diversity. Hurst reminded the group that diversity is part of our American heritage, and that your job is to figure out how to access the voices of your community.
As Patrick pointed out, identifying diverse leaders and integrating them into the community is a challenge with many rewards. Not that it’s easy—leveraging diversity takes dedicated resources, emotional commitment, and clear purpose.
Session attendees shared their observations as well. One person (herself an immigrant to the United States) reiterated the point that the community needs to help people adapt quickly—by, for example, teaching people new to the community how to fill out job applications, write their resume, and access health care.
In North America and parts of Europe, noted another attendee, the emphasis in communication is on the message. In contrast, in other countries, the emphasis is on first building relationships--building the foundation for trust. Recognizing this difference can go a long way to establishing effective communications among diverse groups.