Medium 9781523094288

We Can’t Talk about That at Work!

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We Need to Talk!


Conversations about taboo topics happen at work every day. And if they aren't handled effectively, they can become polarizing and divisive, impacting productivity, engagement, retention, teamwork, and even employees' sense of safety in the workplace.

In this concise and powerful book, Mary-Frances Winters shows how to deal with sensitive subjects in a way that brings people together instead of driving them apart. She helps you become aware of the role culture plays in shaping people's perceptions, habits, and communication styles and gives detailed guidance for structuring conversations about those things we're not supposed to talk about.

Preparation is crucial—but so is intent. Winters advises you to “come from your heart, learn from your mistakes, and continue to contribute to making this a more inclusive world for all.”




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7 Chapters

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1 Why Do We Have to Talk about THAT at Work?

ePub

High performing leaders are able to unite diverse team members by building common goals and even shared emotions by engaging in powerful and effective dialogue.

GEORGE KOHLRIESER,
Clinical and Organizational Psychologist1

Why in the world would we want to encourage employees to talk about polarizing topics in the workplace? We come to work in order to make products and provide services for our customers, members, and/or clients—not to talk about social issues. Topics such as race, politics, and religion are inappropriate and should be discouraged.

Perhaps this is how you feel. For as long as I can remember, this has been the prevailing sentiment for many organizations and corporate environments. However, there are compelling reasons why a position of avoidance is no longer the best policy.

The most persuasive reason for building the skills necessary to talk about polarizing topics at work is that they are already being talked about or thought about, more than you may think. Social media is a huge factor in the increased visibility of and exposure to these issues. And even as these topics remain top of mind for most of us, in general, we lack the skills to have effective dialogue.

 

2 Get Yourself Ready for Bold, Inclusive Conversations

ePub

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.

LAOTZU1

Chapter 1 focuses on the compelling business case for learning how to engage in bold, inclusive conversations. This chapter outlines what you need to do to get ready for the conversation. As highlighted in the preface, this is hard work. And the hard work begins with you. In the next chapter, I will delve into the importance of learning about those who are different from you as another key aspect of getting ready—also hard work.

A key reason for not being able to effectively dialogue about polarizing topics is our lack of cultural self-understanding. Bold conversations about race, religion, politics, and other polarizing subjects require different skills than other types of conversations. Historically we have not wanted to talk about these topics because it is just too hard, making us uncomfortable and often eliciting strong emotional responses.

 

3 Expand Your Understanding of Others and Assess Organizational Readiness

ePub

Invite people into your life who don’t look like you, don’t think like you, don’t act like you, don’t come from where you come from, and you might find that they will challenge your assumptions and make you grow as a person.

MELLODY HOBSON 1

The work to get ready for bold, inclusive conversations is personal, and it also requires assessing organizational readiness. Chapter 2 focused on the self-understanding aspect of readiness. This chapter highlights the importance of learning about other cultures as well as assessing organizational readiness.

In her 2014 TED Talk, “Color Blind or Color Brave?” Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Capital, challenges us to venture outside our comfort zones, be intentional in engaging with our “others,” and leverage difference, not only for the greater good but also for maximum business impact. Let’s explore why having a greater understanding of other cultures or being “color brave” is so critical to engaging in bold, inclusive conversations.

 

4 Prepare: Why, Who, What, How, Where, and When?

ePub

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

In Chapters 2 and 3, we explored readiness for bold, inclusive conversations. This chapter focuses on preparation. Readiness is the ongoing learning process of becoming more knowledgeable about yourself and those who are different from you, whereas preparation is the plan for an impending conversation. We explore the tactical aspects of preparing for the conversation in this chapter.

It is useful to use the Why, Who, What, How, Where, and When model often used in investigative reporting and other types of research as a template for getting prepared.

The most critical question to consider is why are we pursuing a dialogue about X?

   What is the main reason for this particular bold, inclusive conversation?

   Why is this an important conversation to engage in?

Why is it important to you? Do you think it is just as important to others who you want to be a part of the conversation?

 

5 Let the Conversations Begin: Search for Shared Meaning

ePub

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

STEPHEN R. COVEY, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Now that you have a better understanding of the prerequisites for having bold, inclusive conversations and you have assessed your readiness, let’s turn our attention to the actual conversation.

Remember this is a process and not a singular event. (See the figure on the next page, which is Figure 1 from the preface, repeated here for your convenience.) There may need to be several conversations that build on one another to reach the desired outcome of shared meaning and ultimately the ability to deeply understand each other’s perspectives, which we explore in Chapter 6. If you and the other(s) engaging in the conversation already have experience, perhaps one conversation will suffice, depending on the topic and the desired outcomes. This chapter primarily addresses those with limited skills to have bold, inclusive conversations, and therefore, the assumption is that multiple conversations will be necessary. Use your judgment as to how many conversations may be needed in your situation.

 

6 Let the Conversations Continue: Interpret and Bridge Differences

ePub

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

MAYA ANGELOU, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 1

Jake and Rodney are now ready to delve into their different perspectives. This is their third conversation. Readiness to delve into differences may happen by the third conversation or it may not. It could happen before then, depending on the readiness and preparation of each party, as shown in our model for Bold, Inclusive Conversations. (See the figure on page 88.)

It is hard to say how you will know when you are ready. It will be a feeling of greater mutual understanding. You will feel that you have amassed sufficient information about the other person or cultural group. You will sense that you are at a different place—a shift has occurred—and your worldview is different from when you started the first conversation. The table on the next page is a guide for determining when you might be ready for deeper conversations around polarizing topics.

 

7 Sharpen Inclusive Habits

ePub

Inclusion starts with I and takes all of us.

MARY-FRANCES WINTERS

The need to have bold, inclusive conversations on polarizing topics in the workplace will ebb and flow. Polarizing topics will not always be front and center, and there may be some subjects, such as politics, that you will want to continue to discourage. However, when politics or other polarizing topics come up, you want to be ready and prepared so that the outcome has a positive impact on the work climate. This final chapter provides guidance for honing inclusive habits that you will want to practice on a regular basis—even if it is not about a polarizing topic—and some language to be aware of that can encumber inclusion.

I have found that these habits can enhance our capacity for inclusion.

Acknowledging: You don’t know everything; there is always something to learn.

Legitimizing: Other perspectives are just as valid as yours and should be listened to for the purpose of understanding, not necessarily agreement.

 

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