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How to Respect Individual Differences

by Erin Schreiner

Understanding someone who differs significantly from you can prove a challenge, as you may have no experience with his ways of life or customs; however, being understanding of differences is important to maintaining harmony in your relationships. Instead of fighting against differences, embrace them, be respectful of them and use the experience to learn and grow as a person.

Learn about your own culture, advises the article "Building Relationships with People From Different Cultures," published on the University of Kansas website. Understanding your own culture helps you understand the impact of cultural beliefs and behaviors. Get to know a person from another culture as an individual, first. When dealing with a person or people who are different from you, you must first learn about them to see what makes them different from you. Spend some time talking to this person or, if dealing with a group of people in a formal setting, administer a questionnaire to gather information about these individuals and see how they differ from you and from others in the group.

Learn about others' cultures. In "Are You Strong Enough to Aggressively Respect Everyone?" Thomas G. Plante, Ph.D. says respect begins with acknowledging the rights, dignity and perspectives of everyone. Get to know other people by asking about their customs and traditions. If a person who is from a different culture celebrates a holiday, consider joining in or urging her to share information about the event with you so you can improve your understanding.

Accept things with which you don't agree. Being respectful of individuals' differences doesn't mean always agreeing with them. If you have a difference of opinion that simply can't be overcome, move past this disagreement, looking at it as only a difference of opinions, not a matter of right and wrong.

Share information about your life. Reciprocate in information-sharing by volunteering information about your life. By doing so, you can show this individual that you are willing and eager to form a relationship.

Create connections where similarities exist. Look for things that you have in common with the individual with whom you have differences and build on these similarities, joining with him in social outings or discussing things that you both enjoy. As you do, you will likely see that you and this individual are more similar than you originally thought.

About the Author

Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.

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