The ability to work well with people who have different opinions and values is a persistent challenge in daily work-life.
The problem, says science, is that most humans unconsciously favor others who are genetically similar. That doesn’t just mean we like people who look like us, but also inherited traits such as enjoying reading or travel are also a big draw.
So what happens when you mix up a group of people that don’t necessarily all share similar behaviors and interests? Research shows that the neurotransmitter oxytocin does the opposite of what we normally experience when it’s released. Instead of pouring out a flood of feel-good hormones that helps us bond with our perceived opponents, being with people who are not like us causes oxytocin to incite suspicion and disdain. Neither are good tools when working towards a common goal.
BEGIN WITH SOMETHING YOU BOTH WANT
Erin Barnes witnesses this on a regular basis. As cofounder and executive director of ioby, a crowd-resourcing platform that connects neighbors, donors, and volunteers to fund projects in underserved communities, Barnes points out, “Usually, when neighbors come together, it’s to fight against something—that’s the underpinnings of what’s called NIMBYism [Not In My Backyard].”
To combat the negative dynamic that rises from the “cliche of cranky neighbors complaining about something rather than offering solutions,” ioby got its name from the acronym for “in our backyards.” “We’re interested in people with different perspectives meeting and working together to make something the whole neighborhood can be proud of,” says Barnes.
So far, ioby has supported more than 250 projects in New York City, and has 100 more under way across the country. Barnes contends that the end product isn’t just a new public space or sustainable initiative, it’s a new understanding among the project’s supporters. “Working on a positive project together can help break down some of those adversarial boundaries,” she says.
FIND THE COMMON GROUND
Barnes understood early on that wanting to change the world is an ideal worth striving for, but making real, lasting change isn’t easy. “To get anything worthwhile done requires involving a diversity of constituents, and that means stepping out of your comfort zone to talk with people you don’t agree with,” she says.
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