Creating a safe space for critical conversations.

Ever wondered why certain stereotypes and biases persist in the workplace? After all, most companies employ Diversity and Inclusion policies. Surely discrimination should come to an end. Well, let’s be honest here; the change is excruciatingly slow. Join me and start exploring the idea of speeding up this process. So lately, the label D&I, meaning Diversity and Inclusion, is all the rage. Take a step back and consider these policies and regulations’ positive impact. They will perform better if a multicultural team feels appreciated and fulfilled and has leaders supporting them. Sounds good. Now consider another perspective. A team member who has worked hard for their position, shows loyalty and has a great rapport with their colleagues doesn’t get a promotion because HR needs to fill a quota. What happens to their motivation? Could you accept this with no questions asked? No doubt many of us will feel betrayed, motivation will slowly decline, a slow downward spiral will begin, and cracks will start to form within the team. This example demonstrates how resistance towards cultural awareness prevails, and a toxic environment has the potential to take over. Demanding D&I from employees might backfire. Luckily, there is a straightforward and dynamic solution. Even better would be a preemptive strike for those leaders who take the time to act. It is possible to apply communication concepts across cultures without years of study. It needs understanding, basing examples on the workers’ struggles and wins.
Addressing the effects of globalisation is what leaders should be prioritising. Modern leadership is more than just delegating workload or infantilising employees’ private lives and obligations. Instead, taking time to listen, explain and lead by example is what now defines leadership. Showing humility creates empathy, resulting in better rapport. Rapport is a great tool to convey new concepts. Kindness and compassion can develop into loyalty. All these combined set the stage for a conversation beyond the daily pleasantries. The idea is not to ambush people with concepts that might seem scary or too radical. Compromising employees’ psychological safety for profit is to be avoided at all costs.
A “safe space” is where culture, beliefs, and biases don’t create boundaries; instead, they are discussion points removing years of controversies and conflict within a few months. First, dedicate a quiet place, especially for these types of conversations. Then build rapport, mirroring the employees’ movements and tempo. Gradually slow your body language down during the discussion until there is mutual calmness, be sincere, or this won’t work. Create a ritual around this “safe zone”, e.g. always offer the same cookie. Here is where employees can speak out loud, expressing fears, and this conversation is kept private and never used against anyone. If someone does, do not retaliate by doing the same. The main focus should be creating a safe space of acceptance and keeping the dialogue active. In time, this will have a snowball effect in other areas. Diversity drives creativity, resilience, and flexibility, something that modern workspaces can utilise and, done correctly, serves all. Using the safe space model is a simple and effective way to create the understanding necessary for change. Avoiding unreasonable life-changing demands without explanation and assumption from leaders is outdated and harmful in the long run. Change starts with good leadership; leadership begins with taking responsibility for your team. Two more pieces of advice as an intercultural coach: Always ask, never assume anything and stop criticising, be curious instead. These are vital components in ensuring both progress and success. Lastly, people are very intuitive, so hiring a specialised coach will help them see you are serious about implementing changes. The above techniques will backfire if employees feel manipulated into a false sense of security. When you hire a coach or consult them, you must make a discovery call. Double-check that the coach lives up to your company standard and resonates with your ethics and company values.

Published: April 2021 Issue; Assert Magazine

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