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Recognizing Our Common Humanity - Lene Hansen

I am a card-carrying member of the importance of diversity and difference brigade. It is after all the basis of life and survival on this planet. But I have found that within this quest we need to recognise our own psychology, the fundamentals of connection. Firstly, we are deeply tribal creatures who are driven to connect with others who we believe or feel can help us to succeed, to procreate and survive. To do that many of us need to feel that we understand that person, and one place that this is particularly true is in an interview situation.

So how do we connect as a person, an interviewer or interviewee? We don't start by looking for differences, we look for the similarities. And there are differences and differences. An outsider looking at the people that I have hired over time would be hard pressed to find any visual theme (unless you used the X-ray picture above, I suppose). But for me, it is simple. Qualifications aside, I hire for personality and I hire (and befriend) passionate, kind and curious people (okay, it may not be a similarity but it is definitely something that I work on!) But seriously, for me the many divisions that we so often see are both baffling and illogical. Why can't people really see people and, more specifically, talent.

Perhaps people do see people, but perhaps those little differences in age, gender identity, race, religion, preference etc just make people uncomfortable enough not make that final leap of faith. That small, quiet 'be safe' fear in so many of us that keeps us from building a bridge and achieving our combined and amazing potential. But we have so much that we can learn from each other.

For example, one particularly interesting night, I was invited to a huge Mormon get-together and when that was finished at 11pm, another friend took me to a 21st birthday party for a lovely girl who also happened to be a fetishist. The thing that struck me about that evening was actually not the man who preferred to socialise whilst rolled up in a rug, or the other man who liked to take his accountancy garb off, pop on some red lipstick and a bustier and sit happily in a corner.

What struck me most were the similarities between the two groups. Among other things, both groups often suffer in the full glare of main-stream perception and the relief at being in a group that not only accepted but shared their belief system was palpable in both. Secondly, neither group was into alcohol. There was none at the Mormon party and it was barely in evidence at all at the fetish party. The total lack of inebriation and overt aggression between the sexes was a surprising and very welcome change from the local nightclubs. I am neither a Mormon nor a fetishist (that I am aware of) but they were kind people and I felt safe and welcome in both places. It made me sad to think that they weren't able to be themselves in many public situations without being judged.

Sometimes when we go beyond the differences we can find the similarities, then we can connect and educate ourselves about the differences. On a recent trip I was able to find common ground with a group of hard-line Texan Trump supporters. This would not have been a group of people that I would naturally have gravitated towards, and I admit that it wasn't a smooth ride at first. But, I was born with an (often) unhealthy amount of curiosity and I particularly hate to be ignorant in my views. So, I asked about them about their beliefs and why they voted for who they did. At first they were really not keen to engage, but when they established (it took some days) that I wasn't going to get angry or judgmental... and that I genuinely was curious about their reasons, then they were able to educate me as to their reasons for voting the way that they did (they did note that it probably would be good if someone took a particular Twitter account away). As a result, I found that I wholly agreed with some reasons and not with others. It really did open my eyes and I was grateful for their candour and thoughtful responses. We parted as friends.

And all of this is important within a business context, particularly in relation to cultural sensitivity. Much business is lost (and much bad blood found) by one party not bothering, or respecting the other group enough, to establish common ground. We, as Westerners are notorious for beating the other party around the head with our world view. My ex-patriot American friends in Asia often bemoaned the bridge burning behaviour of their visiting compatriots in business meetings.

And it doesn't have to be complicated, it can often be just the simplest and smallest bridge. For example, there was a time I was speaking to an audience of about two hundred people in China. They were predominantly listening to me through translation headsets (which always complicates things because tone and context are so easily lost) so I wanted to keep my language simple. This would hopefully maximise the accuracy of the translation and also, if possible, help us find common ground. My assessment was that the Chinese group that I was speaking to was more traditional, so I chose to focus on protecting the home. I then spoke about how the Know Your Client and anti-money laundering products that I was promoting could be seen in the context of home security. For example, your front door is the firewall, asking a stranger on the doorstep their name and intention is due diligence and so forth. There was an unprecedented uptick in calls and orders wanting the full system after that talk.

But it can be hard at times, overcoming prejudices. When I was researching for my criminology degree I found myself sitting in rooms of drug dealers (and murderers apparently) more than once. It wasn't easy but we found common ground in our shared love of our families and this oiled the wheels of us understanding each other. You will never understand another person if you simply decide that someone is a monster, or an idiot...

So, when I am looking to motivate a client (even one who I might not fundamentally agree with) I dig around to find our common humanity, the similarities in our values and build a bridge. This not only improves our understanding of each other and therefore our business relationship but I often find my own world view permanently changed and enriched.


Lene Hansen trained in psychology, criminology and law and now she does none of that. These days she is more interested in moving the needle for young people, young minds or just the young-at-heart. Non-fiction.

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