It’s easy to respect co-workers who are a mirror image of you. If they share your background, ethnicity and attitudes, you may develop an instant affinity for them.

The challenge comes when you work with people who are not like you—at least on the surface. Whether they wear different kinds of clothes or speak in thick accents, you may allow your biases to interfere and draw certain conclusions as a result.

The cornerstone of a respectful workplace is tolerance. Colleagues accept differences in each other rather than fear them. They look past skin color, religion and other factors in an effort to get to know the actual person.

Some people fail to overcome their negative first impressions of others. These initial judgments, often based on one’s prejudices or preconceived notions, can cloud our ability to treat everyone with dignity, fairness and open-mindedness.

To build bonds with diverse co-workers:

Listen for understanding, not agreement. Look past differences in opinion or outlook; instead, focus on understanding a colleague’s views and perspective. Listen with the goal of appreciating how others see the world. Avoid the trap of tuning out simply because someone makes a comment that you deem incorrect. Probe to learn why the speaker thinks that way.

Avoid labels. Monitor your speech patters—and thinking style—to check whether you label people. Beware of adopting the “Jess is a X and all Xs are like that” mentality. A label carries a series of false assumptions that breed stereotypes. What begins as seemingly harmless labeling can degenerate into dismissive and derogatory remarks.

TIP: If you disagree with someone’s views, react with curiosity rather than defensiveness. Ask at least one earnest, non-threatening question to dig for more information. Be willing to change your mind if the facts warrant it.

IT’S TRUE: George Kelly (1905-1967), a personality psychologist, found that we tend to perceive people through constructs (tall-short, slim-pudgy, etc.). If we meet a short, pudgy individual, for example, it can subconsciously trigger unfair impressions such as “lazy” and “sloppy.” Withhold judgment as much as possible and you’ll expand your frame of reference.

TRUE OR FALSE: If you hear a joke that could be hurtful to others, you should speak up.

The answer is TRUE: It’s your responsibility to reject offensive jokes. If you don’t voice your objection right away, your silence implies consent. Permitting cruel jokes—even once--breeds a less tolerant, more divisive workplace.]

Author's Bio: 

Own this Respect in the Workplace Course in Ten Parts. Own one part or all ten.

Daniel Feerst, LISW-CP is an industrial social worker with 25 years of experience providing workplace behavioral risk management consulting, employee assistance programming, and treatment services to individuals and groups. His clients range from Fortune 500 companies, the U.S. Congress, and thousands of small businesses nationwide. He is publisher of the Web site. To speak with him personally phone 1-800-626-4327.