It may not be considered "diversity correct," but working with people who are different can sometimes be stressful. However, there are ways to stop this diversity stress.

It may be difficult for many of us to admit — especially with all the conversation about diversity, equality and inclusion — but denying that you're uncomfortable won't make you more comfortable. You may have to be uncomfortable in order to get comfortable, which means you need to be willing to leave your comfort zone.

I've spoken with thousands of people around the world about diversity and inclusion and how we can all benefit.

People often confide in me and say things like:

  • "It's stressful working with people who are so different than me. I'm afraid of saying the wrong thing or offending someone."
  • "I don't want to be yelled at or attacked if I make a mistake."
  • "I'm just not comfortable with people who are so different than me."
  • "I think some of my co-workers avoid me because they don't know what to say. They don't even acknowledge me."

The truth is when these unspoken fears and tensions are not addressed, it results in people verbally supporting diversity and inclusion. But in practice they stay in their comfort zone with people who are "just like them."

The more stressed out we are and the less we interact in meaningful ways with people who are different, the more we consciously and unconsciously rely on preconceived ideas about who other people are. We think it makes the world easier to navigate when in fact those assumptions cause us to act in ways that impede collaboration.

Here are three effective diversity stress management tools. I used them during a recent business trip to Mumbai and had one of the best times of my life. These tools helped me stay relaxed, make new friends and create new long-term business opportunities.

Start using these tools today:

1. Take three slow, deep breaths. Try this when you think a situation or interaction may be uncomfortable. You'll feel and appear more calm and confident and be more present. Other people will find it easier to interact with you. That extra second of breath will also make it less likely you'll act on a wrong assumption.

2. Send a new message to yourself. Use this self-talk, "It's normal to feel uncomfortable around people I don't know or know little about. They may feel the same way. I never know what I'll learn."

3. Get outside your own head. Visualize yourself interacting with one person at a time and feeling relaxed, calm and comfortable. Most people think of themselves as individuals, but think of other individuals as a whole group, which contributes to diversity anxiety and discomfort. Change the internal picture and see yourself being calm, relaxed and comfortable.

This is a process, so let's continue the conversation. What tools have you used to work effectively and develop relationships with people who are different?