Why do we tend to keep most people at arm’s length? Why are we so hesitant to find common ground? It’s because of our differences.

It’s a shame, but it’s the unfortunate truth. The idealist in us wants to say that none of us are different, that we’re all human after all and that ultimately unites us. There’s truth to that, but speaking so generally and using that ideal as an excuse to call oneself open-minded is inauthentic. Believing that we’re all the same and that no differences matter at once absolves us from doing the hard work to gain true understanding and dismisses the life and experiences of those who are, in fact, different from ourselves.

The plain truth is that there are myriad differences among people that make building relationships challenging—culture, race, religion, gender identity, personal experience, age, profession. To me, these differences are what make the world a rich, complicated and fascinating place, but too often, instead of embracing these differences, celebrating them and seeking mutual understanding, we avoid engagement with them altogether and retreat deeper into our comfort zone, content to keep those relationships surface level and inauthentic.

Cutting through inauthenticity is difficult enough without allowing our differences to add another layer. At this point, the amateur negotiator would just throw their hands up in defeat, hoping for a decent compromise. Yet, as society and the business world becomes increasingly diverse and cultures become more intermingled, refusing to engage with difference is a non-starter if you want to succeed. So, how can we negotiate our differences? Authentic conversations.

Start with Respect

Abandon the idea that you’ve reached acceptance and understanding of differences because you don’t see or think about them. Start seeking understanding from a place of respect that your conversation partner has a different set of experiences and values, possesses a different worldview that’s informed by their culture, ethnicity and where they’ve grown up. Recognize that the same is true for you and that they value these things about themselves in the same ways you value them about yourself.

Listen

Give your conversation partner your undivided attention. Don’t interrupt them. Allow them full expression and appreciate what they are saying. We’ve all nodded along until we can blurt out whatever thought we’ve been holding back. Try to avoid this and focus on what is being communicated. Then formulate your response or question. This should be reciprocated so you will have your turn. You will be amazed at what you can learn just by listening.

Avoid Being Reactive

Inevitably, if your conversation is going well, sensitive subjects will be broached. And sometimes, someone’s honest experience might not line up with how you perceive things. Don’t get defensive or accusatory. Instead, take a moment to consider their perspective and then either offer clarification or seek it. Getting worked up or upset because your conversation partner is expressing their honest opinion and experience is unproductive.

Be Supportive and Collaborative

Remember that you’re both sitting down to talk for the same reason – you want to have an authentic conversation about your differences and enrich the life of your conversation partner by providing an authentic perspective of your own experience. You should be willing to facilitate sharing from your conversation partner and recognize that you’re both working to create an environment that fosters learning and growth.

Conversations like this can provide valuable lessons for life that we can import into our negotiation approach and businesses. They are essential. When we stop avoiding our differences and embrace them as sources of inspiration and growth, we invite authenticity into our lives. If you’re able to have conversations like this, you might be capable of becoming an Authentic Negotiator. Take my Authentic Negotiating Success Quiz to find out if you’re close.