Before you begin reading, please ask yourself this question: In life, and this applies to personal and professional: Are you a traveler or passenger? Reflect on your answer, and towards the end of this article you will understand why I am asking this question. But keep in mind that, whatever your answer is, it will affect the way you run your business more than you may think.
Often, commercials convince us to buy their product; at least this is their main purpose. And sometimes, though not very often, they make us think also, which can be very gratifying.
This is the case with a promotional mini documentary recently aired by a Copenhagen-based travel search engine. The idea behind it is to prove that our views about foreigners and people from other races and ethnicities could be fundamentally changed if we knew more about our own genetic origins.
The DNA test
In April, the brand invited 67 people from all over the world to take part in a project in which they were offered to take a DNA test to find out more about their ancestry. Participants were asked about what they thought the test would uncover, and were also encouraged to share some of their views and prejudices about people from different parts of the world.
Some weeks later they were invited back, and their results were revealed. As you might imagine, those results contained some surprises — there were some emotional reactions, unexpected feedback, and some individuals recognized that they already felt differently about the world around them being in that little room where they were gathered.
“This test should be compulsory,” one of the participants said after the experiment.
The project, called “Let’s Open Our World” is part of a wider campaign by the brand, which has included a global survey of 7,200 people, proving that most have no idea of the diversity of their origins.
Approaching the workplace as a traveler or passenger
It’s easy to think that there are more factors dividing us than uniting us. However, when we actually open our minds to the idea that those around us might have much more in common than we think, then we experience things differently and we begin to see things differently too. We see them in a different way and we definitely value and appreciate them in a more positive manner.
What do you think would happen if a similar experiment were to be taken at your workplace? As an introvert trained to be an extrovert, I always prepare myself for meetings as if they were going to be somewhat of a journey.
Because I spent most of my life living and working in different countries, I go to these meetings with my mind ready to “travel” through the room. I prepare myself, imagining that I am not going to a boring meeting, but rather that I am going somewhere to learn, share, and enjoy the cultural experience. I don’t like to be just a passenger. I prefer to be a traveler.
How to become an engaged traveler in the workplace
Recently, a Gallup research poll showed that worldwide, a mere 13 percent of employees are engaged, involved in, enthusiastic and committed to their job and workplace. The remaining 87 percent of employees are either not engaged, indifferent, or worse. They are actively disengaged and are even hostile towards their organizations.
However, and this is the good news, according to the same survey, the companies that work actively to resist this gap have, on average, 64 percent of all employees emotionally invested in, culturally open and focused on creating value for their organizations. They go to work happy and they look at the workplace as part of their lives.
That sentiment of belonging brings to the company an infinite amount of energy and, consequently, positive results at every level. Therefore, if culture and engagement drives that kind of outcome in organizations, why is it so hard to find truly engaged workplaces? It really is more difficult than looking for a needle in a haystack.
To become “engaged travelers” at work, it is essential to introduce in our mindset the concept of cultural humility: the ability to maintain an interpersonal relation that is “other-oriented.”
In this increasingly multicultural world, recognizing and changing power imbalances and being open to “the other” in relation to aspects of cultural identity are crucial behaviors for understanding and developing a process-oriented approach to competency. Thus, by valuing everyone, we can provide a huge boost to engagement, retention, and morale inside a group, which will then help the organization to create a more solid and tailored corporate culture fabric.
The challenges of being a traveler or passenger
Now I would like you to think again about the traveler/passenger metaphor, imagining yourself in your work setting.
Traveling is challenging. We actually need to be open, let down our guard and be comfortable with the uncertainties. We must also be open to trust and willing to enjoy the cultural experience that we are about to live. If, when you travel, you give yourself over to the cultural experience that you meet along the journey, you are an active participant of your journey, you create an itinerary, you enjoy, learn, grow… you talk and share with others.
Otherwise you are just a passenger, an observer, a passive actor rather than an embracer and engaged traveler. Let’s Open Our World was perceived as an invitation to cross boundaries, embrace our differences and open our mind to the world. Your world.
So, what are you in your world? Traveler or passenger?