As we look through the lens of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, I firmly believe that so many human conflicts and misunderstandings can be eliminated or solved simply through thoughtful and respectful communication. When you sit beside a co-worker or a colleague and they look, act, believe, or think differently than you, you have a golden opportunity to learn. We should always be looking for ways to learn from every occasion or encounter and use the insights we gain to expand our knowledge base.
In order to communicate respectfully, please keep the following things in mind:
- Listen! Stephen Covey said, “seek first to understand, then be understood.” So often we are “listening” so that we can respond rather than listening to understand. How can we really appreciate what others are saying when we think we already know the answers? It’s a difficult skill to master, but nothing shows respect like attentive listening.
- Avoid Assumptions. When thinking about issues of diversity and interacting with others, ask yourself, “what do I think I know, and what do I actually know?” In many of the communications courses and books, assumptions are often called “stories.” We tell stories about others to ourselves all the time which creates bias. If you are going to assume anything, assume a positive intent.
- Be Curious and Ask Respectfully. One approach when meeting and engaging with someone is to take on the mindset that this new person definitely knows things that you don’t. What can you learn from them? For many people, it’s not that they’re not curious…it’s just that they have become afraid of inadvertently offending someone and it can become a barrier to asking the right questions. But you might try something like, “If you have a few minutes today, I’d like to learn more about your culture/your thoughts/your background.” The key to this approach is that you are respectful, and you are open to understanding new perspectives.
- Avoid Being a Spokesperson. If people are asking you questions about your background, use “I” language. If asked, speak from personal experience and not as the representative of an entire group of people. And if you are the one doing the asking, be careful that you don’t ask someone to become a spokesperson.
- Avoid Generalities and Debunk Stereotypes. Stereotypes create misunderstandings and conflicts. When we clump people into a group and slap a label on them, we’re doing the exact opposite of being respectful. Additionally, avoid generalities like the words “all,” “always,” “never,” “them,” and phrases like “those people.”
- Follow the Platinum Rule. Most of us were taught the Golden Rule, which is to treat others as you would like to be treated. But looking through a Diversity and Inclusion lens, we should seek to treat others the way they want to be treated. We’re all different. Therefore, we’re going to want different things. Taking the time to figure out what those things are conveys respect.
- Overcome the Obstacles of Difference. There are times when we will realize that our beliefs or core values are in stark contrast to others. Political and religious differences can be like a powder keg if we cannot respectfully disagree with others or have a humble conversation. Remember this: people are free to believe whatever it is that they believe. However, the critical factor is that all of us behave respectfully toward one another.
- Acknowledge and Apologize for Making Mistakes. We learn more from our mistakes than we do our successes. Mistakes in communication are learning opportunities that deepen our understanding of one another. Mistakes must first be acknowledged and owned. Genuinely and sincerely apologizing for the mistake or misunderstanding helps to build or strengthen bonds.