Big Little Lies: A guide to diversity in the workplace

Big Little Lies season 2 had audiences around the world gripped. The characters are a complex, explosive group of frenemies that seem to thrive off drama and chaos. This diverse cast of characters easily symbolises the tumultuous chore of managing diversity in the workplace.

Navigating a work environment packed with different personalities is not easy. Hopefully most workplace teams are considerably less challenging than Madeline, Renata and Bonnie – but even so, it is worth being prepared!

Here, Bianca Solomon, Human Capital Manager at USB-ED, elaborates on how to ‘play nice’ with difficult personalities at work. You can also take USB-ED’s fun Big Little Lies quiz to see which character is your alter-ego in the workplace playground!

How do you manage diversity in the workplace?

It’s imperative to embrace diversity and appreciate that having myriad perspectives enhances the richness of a work environment and team. It’s vital to encourage employee engagement and open channels of communication. Diversity is key to problem-solving. As a leader, it’s important to enrich your own worldview and appreciate everyone sees things from their own perspective. Once you let go of the expectation that others will think and behave the way you do…or are wrong for not doing so, you will learn to be more tolerant of other views and start to enjoy the variety and dynamics of new perspectives.

Solomon adds, “There are some colleagues you may never agree with, but, if you get to know one another and appreciate the context and background behind each other’s views, you’ll probably find it easier to be understanding. Irrespective of whether you agree, making time to listen can catalyse a third perspective that both of you can appreciate and consider. Listen more than you speak in order to co-create understanding.”

Best advice on making diverse teams ‘gel’?

Solomon believes ongoing interventions, like facilitated interactions that draw on insights from team assessments, are useful for creating foundations based on shared fundamentals or core concepts. But she says real impact comes from developing new ways of working together and role modelling the behaviours you want the team to display. It’s vital to hold each other accountable for what each player contributes to the team’s dynamic culture and performance. It’s also key to give less formal feedback that builds rapport and two-way communication, and to recognise people for excellence and growth. Finally, develop activities that enhance the quality of existing forums and meetings to make sure everyone feels comfortable.

Best advice on dealing with playground ‘bullies’ like Meryl’s Mary Louise?

Leaders need to address poor behaviour and attitudes because they set the tone for how staff work with and relate to each other within an organisation. But, Solomon says that more importantly, staff members must be coached on how to on how to respond when confronted with bullying behaviour. Being able to respond in a way that addresses the behaviour in the moment is a far more powerful skill than an approach wherein the individual is reliant on a third party such as HR or a line manager, to manage the strained workplace relationship.

Additionally, work environments should aim to enhance awareness to behaviours and attitudes that may be experienced by others as ‘bullying’. This could have the positive outcome of having individuals self-correcting actions and behaviours that could potentially cause harm.

Finally, Solomon advocates for workplace bullies to have the chance to make the change. “Few people wake up in the morning with the intention to inflict harm on others in their workplace, so create awareness, give them a chance to make changes and be a better version of themselves. Also, provide them with feedback that recognises strides made and when they are defaulting to behaviours that make others feel uncomfortable. Personality management skills are critical.”

Best advice on upping your EQ to improve your own people skills?

For individuals, it’s about increasing self-awareness regarding how you are being experienced by others. Solomon suggests practicing reflective exercises, journaling, and experimenting with new approaches, over time to become more aware of what behaviour elicits the kind of engagement and experience you want others to have with you.

It’s also important to invite feedback from others in your work environment. Feedback is a gift as it provides an alternative lens to your intended impact when you engage with others.  Finally, diversify your circle. “The more perspectives you invite, the more insightful you become in choosing your own path.”

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