The Value of Having Difficult Conversations in the Workplace


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Have you ever disagreed with a co-worker? I’m not talking about a disagreement over how to approach a work project but a disagreement with their views on diversity, inclusion, or other more political stances. Did you involve them in a conversation about why you disagreed or simply decided not to participate?

In the past, I used to bet on the latter, deciding that it was not my place to hold conversations with members of my team about their beliefs or the values ​​they hold in the workplace. That was until I came across members of my team whose worldview seemed to be in direct contradiction to the values ​​we have as a company.

Individuals become leaders, because people trust and believe in them. They keep their word, honor boundaries, treat everyone fairly, and hold others accountable when they cross a line. For the past two years, I have had to take responsibility and my team members for our commitment to “happy people, happy and diverse culture.” I had to have conversations with members of my team who had different opinions, in order to try to understand our differences and determine if our company was really the best place for them.

Making people responsible, especially family, friends, and even our teammates, is easier said than done. We are often tempted to avoid awkward conversations, but it is precisely the discomfort we feel that should be a signal to talk about it and resolve it.

Related: 4 conversation habits that every entrepreneur should learn

It’s okay to disagree

It can be difficult to strike up controversial conversations without knowing the outcome or all the right things to say. It is important to remember that part of the process is to make mistakes, say bad things, apologize, and learn to do better. In a polarized world where people from one political point of view or another only consume information from sources that validate their opinions, responsible leaders can open up new spaces for more authentic conversation.

One of the goals of our company at Quantum Metric is a healthy and diverse culture, because we recognize that creating a fair job will not be done on its own. With the support of a diverse workforce of gender, ethnicity, and even cognitive skills, leaders can make better decisions more effectively, lead companies that make more money, and help employees feel more represented and heard. Creating an environment that includes and supports diverse teams involves encouraging and mediating difficult conversations on busy social issues.

Leaders who promote diversity have a responsibility to create an inclusive and safe space to protect and refine these values ​​within a team. It’s not just about hiring or working with those who think exactly the same way you do. What is needed is the boundaries that will ensure that each and every member of your team can feel heard, secure, and included. Having these difficult conversations gives you a chance to disagree and understand which side someone might fall into. With this culture comes a multitude of opinions, with which we, as leaders, agree and with which we do not.

Related: 10 things employers never want to talk about, but should talk about

Making holes can be a good thing

My son is now 12 years old, but at an early age he learned to set the boundaries that his mother and I set for him. Learning about boundaries is an important part of childhood development, but it was also important for him to question and discuss certain rules with us, even if in the end he did not get away with it.

Similarly, an ethical leader needs to set boundaries for his team to feel safe and grow, but it also allows people to challenge those boundaries in a healthy way. When employees question a company’s policies, leaders may call areas that may be unnecessary, obsolete, or need to be adjusted.

If someone does not comply with the company’s diversity policies, first, give them a chance to open their minds with a conversation. Let them make holes, but intervene with the facts when their criticisms come out. If they refuse to examine their fixed mindset and their presence makes others feel insecure or undervalued, a leader must realize when someone will never represent who they are as a company.

Maintaining your values ​​is difficult, but there are times when leaders have to draw that line, regardless of who breaks the rules, even when they do it themselves.

Related: 5 Ways to Make Sure You Have Real Diversity Within Your Business

Tough conversations are for learning, not for winning

A true leader knows that good conversations are about learning, not winning, especially when someone disagrees. Being open to listening to the experiences of others is an opportunity to better understand their opinion and how it may be affecting their work or team. This openness goes both ways: employees with more experience in social issues might think that one company’s approach to diversity might be better, while other employees might be in direct conflict with it. Leaders demonstrate a willingness to listen to disparate views, not to let someone else win, but to determine whether that person’s disagreement can be considered aligned with their organization.

In recent years, social media has facilitated tougher conversations than ever before. This is how we improve and begin to correct the mistakes of society. For me, having difficult conversations with my team requires me to learn and understand issues that I might not have thought of otherwise. So when my daughter asks me about the struggles of transgender teens, for example, I can have this conversation with her in a more informed way.

The power to accelerate social change is in our hands whenever we decide to have difficult conversations. We spend most of our waking hours at work, and global disruptions, waves of change, and political pressures don’t just occur after 5:00 p.m. There is an opportunity to do more than achieve business success, and it starts with having open, honest conversations and yes, sometimes difficult ones between them.



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