Understanding how to manage tricky conversations in a professional environment without harming your relationships is key to success. Whether you encounter prejudice in corporate communication, find yourself at odds with your CEO's stance on a matter you hold dear, or witness subtle biases in team meetings, voicing your concerns is vital. However, the skill lies in doing so effectively.
Global survey data of 2,600 Gen Z employees indicates that only 20% would work for a company that doesn't align with their values. It's also noted that at least 70% of Gen Z actively participate in social or political causes. Moreover, evidence suggests those who can relate their social purpose to their jobs are more engaged and satisfied in their roles.
To explore how one can express their views and navigate challenging conversations without damaging professional relationships, we consulted a few of our experts. Here are their insights.
Embrace others as allies, not enemies.
When addressing an issue, like a subtle bias, approach the individual involved as an ally, not an adversary. Social advocacy is most effective when you initiate conversations by "inviting people in" instead of "calling them out" or outright criticism.
"To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others." - Tony Robbins
Aim for a dialogue, striving to comprehend the other party's perspective. Focus on assisting them in understanding their error rather than chastising them for it. Such conversations are not just ideologically sound but also pragmatic and practical. By inviting a person to discuss an issue rather than attempting to win a battle, they're more likely to listen and positively move forward from the conversation.
Understanding intent is vital; listen to their viewpoint.
Once on equal terms, actively listen to and consider the other person's perspective. Research indicates that we tend to overestimate how radical our adversaries' views are.
Clarify intentions by actively listening and displaying curiosity. Ask specific questions to comprehend their viewpoint better. After listening attentively, summarize what you've heard to avoid misunderstandings and confirm the facts. This will help you understand where you differ in your beliefs, their views' origins, and whether they're open to new information or prone to change.
Our ability to hear others increases when we listen and make them feel heard. As a basic human behavior, reciprocity - doing unto others as they do unto me - is a norm we should follow. Recognizing this reciprocity can make conveying your stance easier.
The human element is paramount.
It's crucial to remember you're interacting with a fellow human, a person with feelings, experiences, aspirations, and a shared desire to be understood and respected. Labeling others as narcissists, gaslighters, or toxic can lead to their dehumanization, especially when their views diverge from ours.
By listening to others and understanding their perspective, we respect their capacity for growth and change. Minson underscores that when we acknowledge the potential for change in those we disagree with, our engagement with them becomes more productive. Avoid the binary view of people as either "good" or "bad." Extending grace and empathy can go a long way.
Exclusion, on the other hand, can lead to the entrenchment of extreme views. If an individual feels marginalized, they might seek out like-minded individuals, thereby creating echo-chambers and perpetuating polarization. Treating people as humans, with their unique flaws and fundamental needs, is essential to the changes we hope to achieve.
Humor can be a potent tool.
Contrary to what one might expect, a sense of humor can play a critical role in social advocacy. Kashdan cites Loretta Rose's experience as an example of grace. In 2017, as a professor, she mistakenly used the wrong pronoun for a student. Instead of reacting negatively, the student lightened the situation with humor, saying, "That's all right; I misgender myself sometimes."
Humor allows us to connect on a human level, disarm others, and mitigate embarrassment. It invites dialogue and doesn't presuppose negative intentions. However, this approach depends on the situation and your comfort level with the individuals involved.
Don't hesitate to seek help.
Confronting broad organizational issues or engaging in difficult conversations with senior leadership can seem daunting. However, finding allies can prove invaluable in these circumstances. Look for individuals in leadership roles who share your concerns. Consult with them and propose how specific actions could benefit the company, its leaders, and its employees.
For instance, if your organization misses out on focusing on ESG, you could make a case for its potential benefits. Be proactive in suggesting how you can move forward with this issue.
Advocating for a more empathetic, respectful world is no easy task, and you can't control how others react. But the most important thing is to make a sincere effort, even if your attempts to engage others aren't always successful. Patience is the key to changing minds and behaviors. Give it time.
As we strive to foster a world of mutual respect and care, it's crucial to remember that the reactions of others aren't within our control. What truly matters is the sincerity and wholeheartedness of our attempts. Sometimes, change might be slow, but patience is key. Each conversation, each voice raised for what is right, takes us one step closer to a more empathetic, understanding workplace.