Differences to Manage

“It is important to stress that partnership does not mean a utopian community where people live in harmony ever after.”

– From Power to Partnership – Creating the Future of Love, Work, and Community by Alfonso Montuori & Isabella Conti

Once you have made the commitment and the project is underway, differences in personality, background, age, culture, gender, education, and politics, to name only a few, will create distances between the parties or partners that will need to be managed and tended. They will emerge and need to be acknowledged and, hopefully, utilized. Ideally, when there is a style or personality difference, both parties are aware of it and feel a shared responsibility for bridging that difference. An indication that they are able to value and utilize that diversity factor is their ability to name it and to talk about it together. A commitment to accepting and valuing differences and finding ways of ensuring that it is an asset rather than a detriment is crucial.

The analogy of planting a garden is suitable for collaborative projects. The soil is the relationship, with the quality of the soil directly affecting the quality of the plants that grow in it. As with any ecosystem there is always the natural potential for weeds to show up, in addition to the seeds you have planted. Open, honest, respectful, and curious communication will be the equivalent to weeding the garden so the seeds you have planted together in the project can grow strong.

On the following page is a list of personal and organizational aspects and factors. Most categories have a wide spectrum and we all fall somewhere along that spectrum. Where we fall on that spectrum will likely shift over time due to life circumstances, role changes, maturity, and experience, etc. However, we all fall somewhere along the spectrum.

Most people tend to feel comfortable with others who are somewhere around their end of the spectrum. Differences resulting from our social location and identity, arising out of who we are and who we are not, do not go away. These differences are not problems to be solved, but something to be mindful of, and with awareness and effort can be managed so that they become a benefit to the project. This diversity is a strength and a resource or capital that can be harnessed and used effectively along the way to create a higher quality project.

Like all differences in style or structure there is no right or wrong way of being, approach, or method – all ways have strengths and weaknesses, pros and cons. However, it is important to be aware that the collaboration will be as successful as is your ability to recognize and bridge differences between individuals leading and co-managing the project, and the culture, orientation, and processes of the organizations they are representing (which might not always be the same as their own). Valuing and utilizing diversity or differences is one of the highest levels of relationship building.

Collaboration should be a struggle.”
Philip Glass, Composer/Musician
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