Yesterday, I enjoyed a lovely lunch. 65 degrees and sunny. My friend, my daughters, and I ate outside to soak up the sun.

Midway through our lunch, a woman dining alone sat down at the table next to us. We continued our conversation for awhile, and then she joined in to add her thoughts.

Apparently, as we talked, she found herself identifying with every topic we discussed. Finally, she decided to join our fun.

On both the surface level topics of our conversation (furniture shopping, flea markets) and the deeper stuff of life (relationships, spirituality), we found common interests and values. I left the table with the phone number of this new stranger-turned-friend.

Here’s the lunch lesson: It’s always possible to find common ground with others.

In the last post, I wrote about our tendency to want to stay in groups of people we perceive to be like us. The truth is, we all have more in common than we think.

If we are willing to take the time to get to know others, we may soon find ways to relate to others. We can start by finding common interests or values. As our common interests draw us together, our difference may seem less important.

First, discover and concentrate on common interests. If you are working with a diverse team, take time to get to know your team members as individuals. You obviously have one common interest and goal already: whatever work project has brought you together. Beyond that, look for other connecting points. Share some of your interests and values and ask good questions to get to know the unique hobbies, likes, and dislikes of your team members.

Next, recognize differences and look for ways to use them to strengthen your team. I’m an extrovert. You gain energy from time spent alone. I am forgetful and big picture oriented. You keep meticulous and detailed notes and refer to them frequently to stay on top of deadlines. Instead of labeling differences as right or wrong, appreciate people for who they are and find ways to maximize their strengths.

Consider finding similarities with others an intellectual challenge. Think of a colleague or team member who is superficially most unlike you. Choose a person that you know or assume is different from you in other ways as well. Take some time to get to know that individual. As you do, see how many similar attitudes, values, or interests you share. Make a list. This exercise will be good practice for finding common ground with others.

Remember the lunch lesson, and you may soon find that you can work much more effectively — or even make friends —with those colleagues you assumed were strangers.

Join the conversation!

What other ideas do you have about finding common ground with others?

Do you agree with me that we have more in common than we think?

Did you try my intellectual experiment? If so, what did you discover?

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission.