Inclusive managers tend to be the ones who don’t have an “open door” policy. Instead, they get up out of their seats, walk through the door and actively go to their people and really talk. Passively sitting in an office waiting for people to knock on the door works for some but not for everyone. You’ll hear the knock, knock, knocking of the plucky, the brave and the socially confident but may be waiting a long time for the quiet, the introverted and the reserved.
Inclusive managers should encourage everyone to speak and that starts by being proactive and making the first move. Consistently reaching out to others demonstrates approachability and interest whilst it also sets behavioural expectations for the team. As with anything cultural, it has to start with senior leaders and managers’ role modelling the desired behaviours and encouraging others to do the same.
Here are some tips to follow to ensure your conversation is truly inclusive:
1. Talk More About Them and Less About You
We’ve all spoken to someone who never shuts up about themselves, what they’re interested in and at the same time never asks for your perspective or changes the topic to one that affects you. It can feel like you are surplus to requirements whilst they continue to essentially have a chat with themselves. It’s not a valuable exchange or use of your time.
An inclusive conversation starts by showing real interest in the other person, their lived experiences and the things that affect them. Many people enjoy the opportunity to talk about themselves whilst others require a bit of a helping hand to get going. Try asking open questions about their context, projects and current reality at work. It may also be of benefit to ask the other person what they hope to get out of the conversation and to agree some boundaries; this creates a safe environment and ensures that you both adapt to each other’s style and approach. We’re all different and an inclusive conversation should be able to flex to our varying needs.
2. Be an Active Listener
When we’re in the middle of a conversation we tend to spend more energy thinking about what we’ll say next instead of actually listening to other person. When another person is speaking, really listen to them in order to understand them. This can be hard but it’s important in order to give yourself the best opportunity to understand their experience and for the other person to feel heard and respected. Below are some attributes of an active listener:
• Be Curious: Demonstrate a genuine interest in finding out the other person’s story or perspective and use this information in coaching or advice that you may give.
• Give Space: It may seem simple but give the individual a good chance to speak and don’t be afraid of silence. It can be an effective technique to get someone to open up as they are likely to want to fill the silence with their words.
• Echoing: Try using the same language as the other person and where possible adjust your own language to match theirs. This shows that you have heard what has been said and you’re able to take on another person’s perspective.
• Reflect Back: It’s important not to assume anything or interpret what another person means by what they have said. This is where we can allow our biases to come into play as we put their words through our own filter. Don’t do this! Instead, just check your understanding of what was said by reflecting back what you heard to see whether it’s right or not.
• Talk less and Listen more: Limit how much you talk about yourself and avoid sharing your own experience to “trump” those of the other person.
• Summarising: Remember to summarise what you have heard at appropriate points along the conversation. This shows that you have been listening and demonstrates how much you have really understood from the conversation.
3. Ask Good Questions
Open-ended questions are a great way to get others to share more and take the conversation to a deeper and more nuanced level. They require an answer with more depth and a lengthier response. Open-ended questions are also helpful in finding out more about a person or a situation; it’s a subtle and non-threatening way to encourage the other person to share. Of course, be discerning about what you choose to “probe”; keep it relevant to the job or to the person’s interests and likes. Examples of good questions are…
• Who…was involved in that situation?
• What…were the key things that you had to think about?
• Where…did this take place and why was that important?
• When…was it important to for you to do this?
• Why…do you think you perceived that situation in that way?
• How…does it make you feel?
4. Make the Time and Check the Place
Never start something that you can’t stop; make sure that you have the time to hear the other person out and don’t rush the conversation. Also, be mindful of places and spaces when you’re having sensitive or personal conversations. Noisy coffee shops or where there are too many people aren’t usually the best environment to have an inclusive conversation. A successful one needs a relaxed and pressure-free environment with minimal distractions.
Remember, an inclusive conversation occurs when differences in perspectives are heard, shared, and seen as opportunities and not something to be ignored. These differences in perspectives are grounded in our varying lived experiences which can be centred on any blend of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, class, location, job level, political outlook, allegiances, hair colour, or anything else that plays an important role in who we are. Seeing our differences as building blocks instead of walls takes overcoming internal and external barriers, like that “open door”, and actively talking to and hearing those around us.
Having inclusive conversations especially in the workplace is key to building and sustaining strong teams. At PDT Global, we partner with organisations to create and embed a truly inclusive culture that is sustainable.
Alasdair James Scott is an Inclusion and Diversity Trainer at PDT Global – firstname.lastname@example.org