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3 Ways to Defuse Diversity-Related Conflicts in the Workplace

Diversity-related tension in the workplace is a common occurrence, whether you work with just a few people or have teams of hundreds all across the globe. Small tensions can simmer into large conflicts, so it’s important to provide diversity training to employees so that they know how to defuse diversity-related conflicts before they boil over.

In the workplace, “diversity moments” happen when differences in culture, experience, and expectations affect our relationships or understanding of a situation. They are often based in cross-cultural misunderstandings when a meaning that exists in one culture is interpreted differently in another.

Diversity training programs – and even communication skills videos – that present realistic scenarios and concrete steps for handling these “diversity moments”, are a great resource for combating workplace conflicts about diversity. Here are 3 ways to address diversity-related conflicts.

Explore and Acknowledge Differences

When in the midst of a diversity conflict, it’s important to explore others’ viewpoints, and not assume that you know it all. Quickly explain the situation or concern from your perspective, then invite the other person’s perspective. Use phrases like “The way I see this is….” or “How do you look at this?” Then, reframe what you’ve heard the other person explain with something like, “If I understand what you are saying…”.

Diversity and communication skills video recommendation: M.E.E.T. Breaking New GroundCovers how to manage dynamics and create a respectful workplace by focusing on the respect & inclusion component of diversity.

Assess Intent Cautiously

In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to assume that someone else INTENDED to be hurtful, mean, rude, or even racist. But diversity training teaches us to assess others’ intent cautiously: don’t jump to conclusions about that person’s intent. Think about a time when you made an assumption about someone’s attitude or intent and turned out to be wrong (or when someone misjudged your intent).

Diversity and communication skills video recommendation: Gateways to Inclusion Dr. Sondra Thiederman teaches skills that turn moments of diversity tension into “gateways” for increased understanding and improved relationships.

Speak Up Without Blame or Guilt

If a “diversity moment” occurs where you hear someone stereotype another person, or say something demeaning, speak up. If you stay silent, other people may interpret your silence as support for the hurtful comment or action.

When you speak up, make sure you do it without blaming the speaker or trying to make them feel guilty. Remember in the point above – don’t assume that person intended harm; instead, give them the benefit of the doubt and ask a question (like, “I’m not sure I caught that; what were you saying?”), explain the impact of what they said (“I know you meant that to be funny, but it hurts.”), or try to broaden their remark to universal human behavior, like (“I don’t think that’s really a ‘woman thing’; I think that applies to both men and women.”). These steps can help defuse a diversity conflict before it really gets started.  

Diversity and communication skills video recommendation: Ouch! That Stereotype HurtsIn a powerful way, this program depicts the impact stereotypical comments have on others. Practical techniques for speaking up are provided.

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