How To Talk About Race, Gender and Social Issues at Work

According to a study by career-coaching startup Bravely, 70% of employees avoid having difficult conversations at work, which can lower morale and create a toxic work environment. Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, urges her staff to hold difficult discussions at least once per week. If you’re not having them, you’re not growing, she says.

Difficult Conversations Made Easy | Joy Baldridge | TEDxUCCI

Listen and learn

Education is a necessary foundation for a productive conversation. Developing self-awareness, acknowledging conscious and unconscious bias, and learning about the struggles of marginalized, underrepresented groups are some initial steps.

It’s not a marginalized person’s responsibility to educate you, according to some sayings. People who live in marginalized communities frequently already bear heavy social, financial, and emotional burdens. It is usually unnecessary to ask them to take on the additional duties of an educator. Instead of asking someone to teach you about their history or the systemic struggles of their community, think about using trustworthy and fact-based internet or library resources to gather information. These kinds of self-studies and research demonstrate to conversation participants that you tried to understand their experience.

We all have a racialized identity that defines social constructs for us, has an impact on our lives, and makes talking about race difficult but necessary [in life and at work]. Their website offers a library of resources and advice to support your journey and stimulate dialogue. Individuals, educators, and parents can access curated resources, or you can perform a topic search. The resources include interesting videos, articles based on research, and considerate recommendations for putting the lessons learned to use in your own life. Some of the topics you can read about include:

Resources for learning how to engage in difficult conversations

To create an environment in the workplace where diversity, inclusion, and belonging can flourish, it is necessary to have an understanding of one another’s life experiences. Making headway toward better understanding those around you requires having constructive, respectful conversations.

It’s crucial to remember that having fruitful discussions about racial, gender, and social issues takes time, and that success doesn’t always result from just one effort or conversation. It is frequently viewed as a process—a lifelong journey—that requires self-reflection, recognizing and correcting errors, and ongoing learning

Identify the appropriate method of conversation

There are several ways to approach discussions about intersectionalities among coworkers, and the best strategy may vary depending on your specific workplace circumstance. It’s crucial to consider the subject and audience when selecting a communication style, setting, and participants.

Although it may appear that an individual’s attempt to engage in difficult conversations requires less organization of resources, it should still be carefully taken into account. If you’ve taken the time to educate yourself or you identify with the group being discussed, you might feel at ease participating in an organic discussion. It’s okay if you run into a difficult conversation but aren’t confident speaking or don’t feel ready when it happens. Instead, you might try making plans to meet with the other participant(s) at a later time so you have more time to think things through, or you might ask to arrange a meeting with your Human Resources representative.

Two illustrations of resources that can assist you in getting ready for discussions about race at work are provided below:

Award-winning financial journalist Stacey Tisdale discusses the significance of businesses encouraging and facilitating constructive conversations about race in the workplace in this article. Tisdale also focuses on socioeconomic issues like gender and race. She discusses common errors businesses make when attempting to develop an inclusive corporate culture and provides broad suggestions for how they can improve the working conditions for all of their employees.

The group Heal Our Communities recognizes that many people want to talk about the effects of racism and the need for racial healing but are unsure of how to do so. You might be concerned that your viewpoint won’t be understood by others or that what you say might be offensive to them. With the help of sample conversation starters, this guide from the 2019 National Day of Healing outlines specific ways to start conversations about racism, racial equity, and racial healing with coworkers, friends, family, and neighbors.

Having the conversation

In this section, we’ll concentrate on strategies for having productive conversations with people individually or in teams.

1. Establish good intent

It’s crucial that both parties make the intention to understand and respect one another before the conversation even starts. It may be simpler to resolve inevitable disagreements or misunderstandings if this goal is shared explicitly. Creating trust in this way can help us overcome our fear of making mistakes. It’s acceptable to make mistakes, but it’s more crucial that we try to talk about them and grow from them.

2. Embrace discomfort

It’s also okay if you feel uncomfortable (frankly, it’s expected). Although it may not come naturally to you, this process will require you to step outside of your comfort zone because, regardless of who you are, growth is rarely easy. This can be an excellent chance for those who do not identify with a marginalized group to practice empathy with groups that regularly face prejudice and discomfort as they navigate a world that is overly critical of them.

3. Avoid shaming

Allowing others to be vulnerable and showing up as themselves A conversational barrier arises when someone’s attention shifts from sharing and understanding to self-preservation as a result of judgment or shame. Instead, make an effort to communicate honestly and to inspire candor among participants to put you on a better path to understanding one another.

4. See the individual

Avoid generalizing others or assigning stereotypes. Stereotypes and generalizations harm marginalized groups and prevent us from understanding individuals, their unique life experiences, and their personal stories. Remember that human experiences and our unique characteristics are complex rather than assuming broad or basic (and frequently offensive) attributes about someone.

5. Ask questions

Asking questions will help you overcome any prejudice you might have and demonstrate your dedication to the pursuit of understanding. For instance, you might inquire as to whether someone has ever experienced or witnessed racially biased behavior and, if so, what it looked like and how it was expressed rather than simply stating that you don’t believe racial bias is real (which is dismissive of others’ experiences). Or, if you are the target of a hurtful remark, keep in mind your shared objective, be truthful about how you perceive the remark, and request clarification from the speaker.

6. Encourage storytelling

It can be difficult to relate to hypothetical situations or broad definitions of concepts like “gender discrimination” in a meaningful way. However, personal narratives can frequently lead us to a deeper level of comprehension. For instance, hearing a true story about a time when someone experienced discrimination due to their gender identity and how it affected them can help you picture a world other than your own and increase your capacity for empathy for the speaker.

7. Listen to learn

Applying the adage “Listen with the intent to learn, not the intent to reply,” at this time will be beneficial Although it can be tempting to begin formulating your response as someone is speaking, doing so may prevent you from paying attention to the other person and may lead to misunderstanding. Refocus on the speaker for a moment if you find yourself thinking about what you’re going to say next so you can fully comprehend what they’re saying. Only after they have finished speaking should you start composing your response; it is acceptable to take a few moments to yourself to think.

8. Find the similarities

Avoiding concentrating on how others are different from you can help you achieve the goal of understanding one another. Recognize parts of yourself in other people, as Ashante Fray advises in her Here to Help music video. You might not fully comprehend what the other person is saying or what it means to be them, but you probably can relate to how it feels to be small, nervous, stressed, or like you can’t be yourself. These feelings, such as compassion and empathy, can facilitate understanding and connection. ”.

9. Practice regular self-evaluations

It’s critical to pay attention to your feelings and evaluate your attitude both during and after the conversation. Take some time to consider the reasons behind your strong feelings about someone or something, whether they are positive or negative, and consider what self-work might be beneficial as a result. You might also ask yourself what you can do to improve, recover from, or eliminate unconscious bias in order to improve future conversations.

10. Repeat, act and amplify

In a conversation of this nature, you won’t have all the answers, and you might feel overly stressed and need to take a break. It’s okay—and it can be productive—to revisit the conversation. You could give the participants and yourself follow-up tasks like a subject to research, a video to watch, or a podcast to listen to. Finally, give yourself some time to reflect on what you’ve learned from your conversation, then spread the word among your peers to amplify underrepresented voices and discuss your experiences outside of the here-and-now.

The following two resources, the first of which is an infographic on how to overcome discussion blockers and the second of which is a personal success story, both further explore difficult conversations:

This infographic explains how to spot and remove barriers to having difficult conversations about discrimination based on gender, race, or other issues at work. An obstacle could be, for instance, your inability to fully comprehend your coworkers’ experiences or your fear of saying something hurtful. The manual also provides detailed guidance on how to handle obstacles and begin bringing up particular subjects in conversation.

This article is part of a series on “How to Be a Better Human” that offers advice on how conflict resolution specialist Adar Cohen succeeded in having difficult workplace conversations by leaning into conflict, adopting humility, and embracing silence to make room for listening.

In his Here to Help video, Indeed’s Howard Shin, Global Product Commercialization Lead and Co-Chair of the Asian Network, says, “It’s easy to forget how much impact kindness, compassion, and empathy can have.” We may be able to start or continue having difficult but fruitful conversations at work if we can learn how to lead with compassion and empathy when there is conflict.


How do you handle difficult conversations at work?

  1. Don’t wait to have difficult conversations at work. The longer you wait, the more challenging difficult conversations can become.
  2. Change your mindset. …
  3. Practice having difficult conversations at work. …
  4. Prepare beforehand. …
  5. Manage your emotions. …
  6. Be empathetic. …
  7. Brainstorm together.

What are the 4 D’s of difficult conversation?

Examples of difficult conversations at work
  • Turning down an employee’s idea.
  • Encouraging an employee to improve their performance.
  • Resolving conflict between two or more employees.
  • Terminating a position.
  • Telling investors your business is losing money.
  • Asking vendors for new invoice payment terms.

What are the 3 types of difficult conversations?

The four “D’s” that can ruin a conversation are as follows: Denial: The other person rejects what you’re saying, says it’s false, or shuts down entirely. Deflection: The other person changes the subject. “I can’t believe you’re telling me this.

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