Leadership: Workplace Disharmony vs. Diversity

Many leaders and managers are alarmed when disharmony surfaces in their organizations. Yet what is the difference between disharmony and diversity of thought? When is it discord and when is it discourse?

Can you tell when it is fueling divisive paralysis and when, a spirited exploration of valuable views?

Know the Difference Between Disharmony & Healthy Disagreement

Workplace Disharmony or Diversity of Thought? Image by: Sean Wallis via Creative Commons License

Image by: Sean Wallis via Creative Commons License

Leaders do well to first identify what distinction they themselves make, if any, between disharmony and diversity of thought.

For some, any disagreement is disharmony. Perhaps they are afraid of conflict or they believe people should just follow orders. These leaders get frustrated and annoyed when it takes hold and wish it could disappear as quickly as it seemed to surface. Their common outcry: “Can’t the employees work it out for themselves? We’re paying them to work together.”

Well, wish-craft is not a winning leadership strategy. Some would argue it’s not leadership at all.

For other leaders, harmony represents inaction and impending failure. They thrive on spirited debate and disagreement to the point they do not see when it becomes harmfully divisive.

There is no need to confuse disharmony and diversity of thought.

Diversity vs. Disharmony – Key Distinctions

  • Diversity of thought is rooted in respect for ideas and for each other. Disharmony grows from fear and disrespect for others, their ideas, and their ways of working.
  • Diversity excites; it doesn’t enrage. Diversity expands possibilities; it doesn’t limit. Disharmony, with all its disrespect and power struggles, strangles success with resentment, cliques, and self-protection.
  • The return on diversity of thought is growth, innovation, and stronger bonds through learning. The return of disharmony is less collaboration, lower morale, rampant mistrust and organizational paralysis.

Diversity of thought thrives in hearing each others’ views. Disharmony spikes when people take credit for others’ ideas, forget civility, hijack team time with selfish personal agendas, brutally battle for promotions, use emotional bluntness instead of helpful honesty, and suffocate progress with passive aggressive behavior.

The emotion of disharmony drains the team’s energy and attention from successful behaviors. It’s wise to stop this pernicious force in its tracks. Develop people-skills and emotional intelligence to civilly and respectfully disagree.

Encourage diverse views with sincere, transparent respect for each other and the organization’s vision and you will propel all to dynamic success.

What else causes disharmony? Are there other factors you would add?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

Related post:
7 Steps from Brutally Blunt to Helpfully Honest
Leaders, Are We Accomplices to Passive Aggressive Team Members?
Bluntness Bombs Out for Logical Reasons

©2012 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish this post, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

5 Responses to “Leadership: Workplace Disharmony vs. Diversity”

  1. Khalid says:

    Hi Kate,

    I don’t know why I always find a real life application out of your posts! You must be touching such Topics out of your thourough experience.

    We are introducing a diversity plan into our annual appraisal starting next year. Staff will be asked to come up with a promise beginning of next year to open up to other cultures within their team. They have to show that they embraced diversity with respect during the year to get their merit increase and the annual bonus. This is a big jump of cultural change in my company and I’m pleased to be one of the trainers of this new performance appraisal.

    I had in mind introducing diversity as related to cooking by examplifying our environment in the company as a sweet dish of cooking (referring to the overall vision of the company) and us being the diverse ingredient of this dish. The dish won’t be tasteful once cooked unless we recognize each others ability to contribute and help each other to fulfill the company’s purpose! The reason we are all there at work!

    Now you added another valuable example that I will use to distinguish between the positive harmony in diversity and the disharmony 🙂

    I would take your permission to send this to my program leader for sharing.


  2. Samantha says:

    Love this Kate!
    It’s such an important distinction to make: between disharmony and diversity. Often times, many confuse one with the other unnecessarily.
    If we were all to witness the same event, although there would be similarities to our ‘stories’, the details of it may different depending on our perspective. Where we are standing. What’s going on in close proximity to us. What we are able to see and experience from our angle, etc.

    So for me personally, I tend to view the world we live in as a giant jig-saw puzzle. I’m only one person. And I only have one piece of the puzzle. Every other living thing has another piece. When we put those pieces together, we can walk away with greater understanding of each other and the world we live in. We have the potential to walk away being able to see a larger portion of the big picture then we had before.

    Granted, sometimes our own perspectives can be skewed if we have misinformation or perhaps considered something as fact (if this is what we were taught) that turns out to not be true. And group diversity also provides us with the benefit of sorting even those glitches out.

    Learning happens with open heart and open minds.

    Great post Kate!

  3. Dan Armishaw says:

    You make some very good points. I worry that in recruiting the pursuit of a good
    “fit”, a nebulous notion if there ever was one, we eliminate the possibility of the diversity of thought that is essential to avoid groupthink.

  4. Jean Latting says:

    Wonderful, succinct distinction between diversity of thought and disharmony — and definitely a strong element in why some people/organizations fear diversity.

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