person of the year

You don’t have to be Catholic or even religious to admire Pope Francis, the current head of the Catholic Church. One of his chief mantras is, “Who am I to judge?”

This loving and compassionate lens is likely one of the many reasons Pope Francis was named 2013 Person of the Year by Time Magazine.[i] Pope Francis exemplifies for the world a rare ability to respectfully communicate peaceful solutions in the midst of polarizing and sensitive issues. That ability and humility elevated him to be the most influential ambassador of our times, “not by title, but rather by his constant refusal to exclude or judge others.” He boldly yet gently challenges all of us to “argue less, accomplish more…Stop bickering and roll up your sleeves. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”[ii]  

Pope Francis demonstrates how to create environments of mutual respect by treating people with compassion and openness, regardless of our own personal values or beliefs. That kind of respect only comes about when communicating with diplomacy and tact supersedes differing views based upon values, beliefs, culture, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, education or any other life experiences. Suspending judgment and staying resolved to diplomatic and tactful discussions involves two seemingly contrary components that need to exist at the same time: diversity and inclusion.

We find the root of diplomacy and tact to be something so very basic, yet incredibly deep and powerful. That is, diplomacy and tact stem from truly understanding that everyone we interact with during the course of our day in business is actually a person, and because they are a person, they are inherently valuable without any regard for their personality, values, beliefs, habits, religion, preferences, or even their measurable contribution to our organization.

This simple understanding transforms the way we practice relationships, communication, and conflict. Take conflict for the simplest example. When we have conflict with someone, the easiest thing is to allow the issue at hand and the emotions of the conflict dictate how we treat the other side. If we do allow this to happen, diplomacy and tact fly out the window very quickly because it’s easy to speak harshly to someone for whom you have no value. However, if we will remember that the other people in the conflict have inherent value and we allow that value to sink in to the way we think and feel about them, we will then find diplomacy and tact come almost naturally to us.

The concept of workplace diversity has evolved over time to be an all-encompassing term. Never before has the workplace been so diverse, and because of that, perhaps more opportunity for conflict and offense exists now than ever before. For that very reason, it is essential to have a strong foundation of value within our organizations. We have to see people as people before we see them as contributors or clients. Yes, we need their contribution. Yes, we need clients. But they need to be treated like people, like they are valuable.

When we can lay this foundational value within our organization it has the power to harness our diversity to make it our greatest strength. It unites our diverse worldviews, skills, styles, and passions of heart into one vision. Then, in harmony with that vision, each individual can find the freedom they need to accomplish their specific role together with every other individual who also accomplishes their role, building together toward success with collaboration, cooperation, and synergy.” This happens without the burden of uniform conformity, but instead with inclusive diversity, enabling us to hear many options and choosing the best.

So what does a diverse and inclusive workplace, founded upon mutual respect look like? It looks like Pope Francis’ skill in attentive listening, empathetic understanding, politeness, curiosity and non-judgmental approach—all of which can be challenging at times. It is the sincere regard and constant striving to implement these characteristics that facilitate an environment of mutual respect and births teamwork and collaboration in high performance teams. It is in this environment that ideas and skills potently synergize to generate innovative ideas that serve customer needs.