The First Step With DE&I? Stop.. and Listen

One need not look far to find turmoil, conflict, anger, and in some cases aggression in today’s climate.  We can blame it on a lot of things, the George Floyd incident, the Coronavirus pandemic, or other reasons.  We hear about shaming, the “cancel culture,” conservatives, liberals, and so on.  These issues are dividing friends, families, communities and workplaces.

Many companies have received negative press and have had employee backlash for not releasing a statement that they felt was appropriate for the current issues facing our society.  Executives have been fired for saying the “wrong” thing at the wrong time and igniting a firestorm on social media as a result.  Companies don’t like the negative press and POOF!!!… executive gone.

Have you ever been accused of something that you felt was untrue?  How did you feel?  Were you defensive, maybe a little angry?

All of this controversy has brought issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, racism to the forefront.  But while controversy swirls and accusations fly, there seems to be one thing missing.  Are we stopping, even for a moment, and listening?

Let’s just peel off one topic, for the sake of brevity.  Let’s mention diversity.  Encyclopedia.com discusses workplace diversity initiatives as having one or many of the following goals:

  • Fostering awareness and acceptance of human differences
  • Fostering a greater understanding of the nature and dynamics of individual differences
  • Helping participants understand their own feelings and attitudes about people who are different from themselves
  • Exploring how differences might be tapped as assets in the workplace

So, these can be differences of opinion, experience, education, training, values, traditions, motivations, and so on.  Diversity is not just superficial, it’s not just skin color, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.  It is about understanding the individual, and what makes them who they are, and creating an environment in the workplace where that person has an opportunity to contribute those talents and skills that make them unique.  You wouldn’t throw out a tube of toothpaste until you felt that you had used all of it, would you?  So then why don’t we try to tap fully into the ideas and experiences that our employees bring to work?  We may have them for weeks, several years, or a lifetime, and never take advantage of what else might be in that “tube” of experience, talent, insight, and knowledge.  We are worse off for it.

So, how do we get to a place where we can appreciate each other, appreciate our differences, and learn from each other?  Stop, and Listen….

Dale Carnegie, in his book “How To Win Friends and Influence People” says that the best way to be considered a good conversationalist is to listen to someone by giving them your “exclusive attention…nothing is as flattering as that.”

Steven Covey, in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” talks about empathetic listening.  “If you listen, truly listen, without pretense, without guile, you will literally be stunned at the information that will flow to you from another person.”

There are a few ground rules here.  Own your thoughts, opinions, insights, and emotions: “This is how I feel, and here is why…”  There are no accusations in that sentence, nothing to put someone on the defensive.  Invite the other person to tell you their story, and understand their view on a topic.  And have enough respect to give that person your undivided attention.  It’s a sign of respect, and the person you are speaking with will realize that you have treated them with respect.

These conversations don’t have to have winners and losers, right and wrong.  That’s what is causing so much conflict these days, someone has to be right, someone has to be wrong.  Someone is good, someone is bad.  Don’t make assumptions about the other person’s motives.  Clear your mind and listen.

This past week, I had a chance to travel to a large American city (not on the list of quarantine places!) and something became very clear to me – people want to see the good in each other, want to be friendly, want to be inclusive, respectful and kind.  Let’s quit yelling at each other and listen… maybe we can actually make it happen.

See the edited article in the Saratoga Business Journal here:

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