This post is part two in a series.
Co-authored with Faye Cormick, Ph.D.candidate.
In our previous post, we looked at what cognitive diversity is, why it matters, the neuroscience behind it, and the benefits it brings to the workplace. Here, we explore the barriers to cognitive diversity and how our commitment to embracing it can unlock its full potential.
Overcoming Barriers to Cognitive Diversity
Diverse perspectives offer great value through different ways of thinking, different ways of processing information, and different individual experiences and knowledges, expanding the bandwidth of human problem-solving, decision-making, creativity, and innovation. We know that each brain is unique, based on how they are wired. Breaking down and removing barriers to cognitive diversity sits with each of us. We each have the potential to change our thinking and be open to differences.
Let’s look at some of the barriers that impede our ability to embrace cognitive diversity. One common barrier is our inclination to surround ourselves with individuals who are similar to us, resulting in a homogeneous social circle in which everyone thinks and behaves alike. This makes it difficult to introduce cognitive diversity. To surmount this barrier, we must actively seek opportunities to connect with people from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. This can be accomplished by attending events and activities that attract a variety of individuals, volunteering with organizations that serve different communities, or simply engaging in conversations with those who have a different perspective than our own.
Another barrier to cognitive diversity in our personal lives is the fear of discomfort or conflict. Conforming with people who have different opinions or worldviews can be challenging, especially if we need to get used to it. However, avoiding these conversations can prevent us from learning and growing. To overcome this barrier, we must practise active listening and empathy, and be willing to engage in respectful dialogue and invite conversation with those who think differently. The barrier is within us, and we can change the way we think about it if we want to. We may not always change each other’s minds, but we can gain a deeper understanding of different perspectives and build stronger relationships.
Our unconscious bias is also a barrier. We all have unconscious biases, which can prevent us from seeing the world in a truly diverse and inclusive way. To overcome these biases, we need to engage in self-reflection and actively work to recognize and address them. This can be achieved by engaging with something different or new, being curious, and having an open mind in seeking different perspectives through reading books and articles and reflecting on our experiences and assumptions.
Breaking down barriers to cognitive diversity in the workplace is important, but can be tricky. Like any challenge, the desire to change sits with each of us. Here are a few common obstacles that we might face, and how you can tackle them.
Barrier #1: We often hang out with people who are similar to us, leading to a narrow social circle. You’ve heard phrases such as “like attracts like” and “groupthink.” The irony is expecting a different outcome without doing anything differently.
Solution: Consciously seek out new opportunities to get diverse perspectives. Step out of the “comfort zone” and meet with diverse people, whether it’s by attending events, volunteering, or talking with or listening to people who take a different perspective.
Barrier #2: We’re all afraid of discomfort or conflict when engaging with people who hold different opinions. All brains are lazy, which is normal, but not always ideal at work in helping us to try something different, or new.
Solution: Practise active listening and empathy, and engage in respectful dialogue with those who think differently. We may not always agree, but we can learn from each other and strengthen relationships.
Barrier #3: We all have brains that have unconscious biases. These prevent us from seeing things from a diverse and inclusive perspective.
Solution: At the end of the day reflect on one conversation. Challenge your own assumptions and actively seek out diverse perspectives to rethink how you think and become open to different perspectives and conversations with yourself.
Barrier #4: Lack of awareness. We may not understand or be aware of what cognitive diversity is. Without awareness, organizations are less likely to pursue and promote cognitive diversity.
Solution: Educate yourself and your workplace through conversations, and by undertaking diversity and inclusion training.
A World of Diversity Is at Your Disposal
Cognitive diversity is a powerful force for innovation, problem-solving, and personal and professional growth. We can achieve greater creativity, better decision-making, enhanced learning, and more inclusive communities by valuing and embracing diverse perspectives.
When we commit to embracing cognitive diversity, we can unlock more of the mind’s potential achieve a brighter, more inclusive future. Overcoming barriers requires intention and a deliberate effort by individuals and organizations. By actively seeking diverse perspectives, engaging in respectful dialogue, recognizing and addressing our biases, and educating ourselves, we can create a world that values and celebrates cognitive diversity in all its forms.
The bottom line: Embracing cognitive diversity isn’t just a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have. By valuing and celebrating diverse perspectives, we can achieve greater inclusion, creativity, and innovation. Cognitive diversity is a case for more is more. Different brains do it better.
Faye Cormick, a Ph.D. candidate, is a certified neuro-coach and an accredited training partner with the International Coaching Federation, Fellow of the Institute of Coaching, and Fellow of the Institute of Organisational Neuroscience.