By now we’ve all heard the amazing benefits of diversity in the workplace – more creative ideas and problem-solving, and employees’ varied backgrounds and experiences that drive innovation and make a company more representative of the markets they serve. But, when diverse teams of people work closely together, there is an increase in the potential for conflict, misunderstandings, and greater tension. Using good workplace communication skills can help employees to shift those tense moments into respectful conversations and greater understanding of one another.
Here are some examples of tense diversity-related moments that can happen at work:
• You witness an act or hear a joke or comment that is disrespectful.
- Someone treats you in a way that appears to be biased.
- You say or do something that inadvertently offends someone.
- You witness someone else being falsely accused of bias.
- You are uncomfortable because of the differences between you and someone else.
It’s important in these moments to first manage how you feel. Acknowledge whatever emotion you are feeling and accept it. Name the emotion. Naming a feeling has an uncanny way of making it more manageable. Once you’ve stopped, taken a moment to breathe and become aware of your feelings, decide whether your emotion will help or hurt your chance of having a productive conversation with the other person. If you think it will hurt your chances, walk away for a moment to cool down and clear your head.
Once you’re prepared to talk, communicate in a way that demonstrates respect. This starts by not assuming or assigning intent to the other person’s actions. Remember what it feels like to have someone incorrectly assume they know why you did something, and try to offer the other person the same open mind you wish you’d been afforded in the past. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and then engage them in respectful conversation to assess their intent.
Have the dialogue in private to maintain dignity and increase openness in the conversation. Use respectful phrases to start the dialogue like “I’d like to understand,” or “Do you have a minute to talk about it?” or “Thanks for telling me.” Then share what you’re feeling and listen with genuine engagement to the other person’s point of view. Honor the other person’s right to feel the way they do, even though you may not agree or understand them. Keep the dialogue open and moving towards mutual understanding and, hopefully, resolution.
With diversity in the workplace at an all-time high, there are more chances for diversity-related tension and misunderstandings to cause hurt feelings, embarrassment, anger and resentment. But workplace communication that is productive and respectful can heal relationships, help us to know each other better as individuals and colleagues, and help reduce the biases that create so many problems in the workplace. Finally, if we can communicate with each other even when there is tension, we help create a workplace that is more harmonious, open, productive and ripe for innovation.
Gateways to Inclusion: Turning Tense Moments into Productive Conversations teaches skills that turn moments of diversity-related tension into “gateways” for increased understanding and improved relationships. This video program explains that opening such a gateway to conversation — and holding it open, rather than slamming it shut in fear or anger — has immeasurable benefits.