Appreciate the Unique

Adobe For All in Action.

Appreciate the Unique

New year’s resolutions are usually about improving ourselves — healthier habits with food, exercise, sleep, or money. But what if we resolved to change our work habits to make things better for the people around us every day?

At our inaugural Adobe For All Summit, we challenged our attendees to take five simple actions to make Adobe a more inclusive place for everyone:

  • Appreciate the Unique: Value the differences in others’ stories and ideas.
  • Amplify Others: Help everyone’s voice be heard.
  • Enhance the Team: Consider what a new addition will bring that’s different.
  • Rethink Routine: Look to equalize meetings, assignments, social events.
  • Open Up: Speak up for what you need and encourage feedback.

We’re going to break these down with a deep dive on each one as part of a blog series to kick off the new year. First up: Appreciate the Unique.

There is an innate tension that we all experience as humans: We are nearly infinitely different physically — short or tall, right- or left-handed, light skinned or dark skinned, straight haired or curly haired… and on and on. But we are wired to unconsciously prefer and gravitate to those like ourselves. This extends well past the physical to other common identities — for example, we may feel more comfortable with someone who attended our own university, or grew up in a similar socioeconomic situation or geographic area.

It can be painful to feel like an outsider who doesn’t look, act, or speak like the group. It’s especially hard at work, where people are placed together in situations where they need to collaborate and innovate. Differences are proven to drive better results, but if someone doesn’t feel they belong, their level of effort and productivity is going to nose-dive pretty quickly.

Appreciate the Unique is our term for a simple but powerful mindset shift that can immediately make people feel more understood and valued. We need to listen more and talk less to get to know a coworker or team member on both personal and professional levels. We might be reluctant to pry, but human nature is that most of us do want to share. And we want someone to listen — whether it’s about a big personal milestone or a work setback.

Some questions I like to ask:

  • What was your childhood like?
  • How did you get into this line of work?
  • What is your favorite thing about your job? What is your least favorite?
  • How do you like to unwind on the weekends?

The key is not just asking the question, but really listening and following up with more questions.  It isn’t an interrogation, but a genuine level of interest and conversation that is totally focused on the other person. (Challenge yourself not to say anything about yourself until the other person asks!)

If you’re a people manager, these insights can be golden relative to engaging and motivating members of your team. Someone who loves planning parties on the weekends may also jump at the chance to plan the next team outing. Someone who loves to read may appreciate getting a special research assignment. And a sympathetic ear at a time of personal stress or celebration is always priceless.

Taking it to a group level, our global team did a fun and effective team-building exercise early this year. We each got a set of colored pens and took a few minutes to draw our “life outside of work,” in whatever way we each wanted to depict that.  Then we took turns speaking about our pictures. People discussed pets, significant others, kids, hobbies, and life philosophies. I learned that one member of the team rides a motorcycle and has multiple tattoos (usually covered by his shirt!); another owns horses and published a children’s book; another writes poetry and practices yoga. I shared with the team about my kids, cats, and crazy home life (which felt very ordinary by comparison to many others’ stories, I must say). By the end, we all felt more connected, and that has carried us as a team from that point forward. See one team member’s picture below from the offsite gathering — thanks, Marina, for letting me share!

This same concept extends to ideas as well as personal stories. It’s easy to shut down people whose ideas don’t align with our own, but then we would be losing out on so much potential creativity and opportunity. Hear out a new idea without interruption, and say that you appreciate the perspective. (And really mean it!)

These are small and easy investments of time — short conversations with coworkers, sprinkled throughout the pace of our everyday work. But they can make a tremendous difference in making people feel special, and that is at the heart of building a workplace where everyone belongs.

Resolve to make one positive change this year. What will it be?

Stay tuned for future segments in our Adobe For All in Action series. To download a printable PDF of Adobe For All in Action, click here.

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