The Fragile Balance of Difference

Published: June 23, 2020

It’s hard to break free of your own perspective. Teammates see the same event and experience different interpretations. Each believes his or her view is the truth. Of course, each truth is correct. There are many truths. The challenge is to get behind the eyes of your teammates and understand their truths. Here’s how.

Ask this question first. What circumstances would need to be true to make my teammate’s words and actions make sense? If I were subject to precisely the same conditions, would I say and do the same thing? Once an alternative understanding of a situation comes into focus, add it to the cumulative explanation of the picture.

Widen the lens. Rather than settling with the interpretation that fits most comfortably, back up and consider a bigger narrative. Proximity is not always a gift. Step back and allow some of the variables in your peripheral vision to come into focus. You can look at the tree or you can look at the forest. Each tells a different story. 

Fight off the urge of the familiar. The world is not binary. Most things are not just ones or zeroes. There’s a huge space between the absolutes where ambiguity lives. Tolerating the state of not being certain produces anxiety. That stress is a window to understanding. Allow the discomfort to cause growth.

Invite movement. Living things are always growing. Some elements stay stable so others can change. The path from tension to resolution is where understanding occurs. This is when people say things like, “I’ve never thought about it that way before.” It’s the ah-ha moment where clarity and discovery create energy. 

Team chemistry depends on a fragile balance of difference. Different talents, different roles, different opinions, different priorities, different paths to the same destination. Solo artists don’t need to blend their perspectives with others. Teammates are blessed with the opportunity to constantly adjust to each other for the life of the team. Teams that struggle have stopped adapting. Teams that thrive revel in the delicacy of difference.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.