If you're going to engage the world you have to walk across many, many narrow beams. 

If you're going to engage the world you have to walk across many, many narrow beams. 

We all interact with widely diverse groups of people no matter what we do. Surgeons speak with other doctors, of course, but they also rely on office staff to keep their practices running. Architects casually speak the private language of structural engineers while also needing to be attuned to a client’s non-technical desires. As any parent knows, speaking the language of ten-year-olds at 7am is entirely different from speaking the language of work colleagues at 9am, and being able to shift gears adroitly from one to the other has real influence on successful outcomes for both enterprises.

Not everyone likes the diversity of these transactions. Some of us like to remain in our own private comfort zones, ranging out only when necessary. 

Don’t do it. Don’t sequester yourself in your own safe little space. In the churning mix of diverse experience we have the great opportunity to grow in all sorts of ways, and being creative is always a function of growth.  

Of course, leaving your comfort zone opens up the potential for challenges. Some of those challenges are interpersonal: not every person with whom we must interact is someone we necessarily enjoy. Some challenges are aesthetic: sometimes we must interact with people who do things that don’t particularly interest us. Some challenges are invisible. In diverse interactions, we often deal with people who tell us what they think we want to hear, who don’t challenge us to think new thoughts or examine our propositions beyond superficial positions. Sometimes in order to get along, we find people who simply smile and wave and don’t mean a word of it. We might even do the same thing ourselves.

It’s tough to balance the competing needs of staying on our own games while working with other people. Having an intense personal plan doesn’t always jive with being easily able to lean in and listen. The challenges require a measure of shared responsibility for everyone to find ways to respectfully deal with differing opinions to actually get something done at a larger, cultural level. It also matters in terms of accomplishing anything at intensely local, even personal levels. 

It’s one thing to tolerate other people. It’s entirely another thing to listen. Conversely it’s one thing to spout off with what you think without a filter. It’s entirely another thing to find a way to present a challenging opinion—even just a new idea—in a way that it can be understood by your audiences. It matters in both directions, being able to hear and being able to speak, even if the terrain your traveling requires a light step.

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