Tips to Resolve Diversity-Based Conflicts at Work

It’s inevitable that someone will say something demeaning or offensive to another person at work. How these “diversity moments” are handled can make the difference between boiling over into large conflicts or fostering greater understanding among colleagues.

Here are my tips for what leaders can do to enable a more positive outcome:

Establish a process. Be clear on expected behaviors for your company community (what’s acceptable and what’s not) and identify a point of contact for employees to consult with when a conflict arises (a manager or designated HR representative). By communicating a process throughout the workplace, you reassure employees of your commitment to company values and that they can come forward with concerns without fear of retribution.

Speak up. If you hear something inappropriate or hurtful, it is important to speak up. If you stay silent, other people may interpret your silence as support for the hurtful comment or action. If someone comes to you with a concern, encourage the individual to speak up. While conversations about politics, race, etc. are uncomfortable, not speaking up allows hurt feelings and misunderstandings to fester. And that leads to employees feeling that they don’t belong. The lack of belonging is a primary cause of lower employee engagement and loss of credibility with efforts to foster a culture of inclusion.

Engage in respectful dialog. When you speak up, make sure you do it with the goal of seeking to understand and bridge differences. Don’t assume that the other person intended harm. Quickly explain the concern from your perspective and invite the other person to share their perspective. Pose questions like, “I’m curious to know what you meant by your comment”. Explain the impact of what they said with phrases like, “I know you meant that to be funny, but it was hurtful to me because…” Finally, invite the person to share from their perspective by asking, “How do you look at this?” The goal is to not resolve the conflict in a single conversation, but rather to leave the door open for a second, third or fourth conversation. That’s when greater meaning and deepen relationship building occurs.

With some proactive measures and inclusive communication skills, you can use workplace diversity moments to strengthen and give credibility to your efforts to foster a culture of inclusion.

Download and share my Building Bridges Through Dialog Playbook for more tips on how to practice inclusive communication skills at work in order t

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Beth believes a positive, connected and committed organizational culture is critical to business success. That’s why she combined her 25 years of corporate leadership and management consulting experience with her expertise in diversity and inclusion and positive psychology to launch, The Brimful Life, a consulting firm that works with executives to strengthen their leadership skills and transform their leadership teams and organizational cultures to better support the organization’s vision and strategic goals. In addition, The Brimful Life podcast series, keynote presentations and workshops inspire and equip leaders to put people and culture first.

Beth has lived and worked in London, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Bangkok, Boston and New York City. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of Virginia, a MA in International Relations from Tufts University and an MBA from Columbia University.

Beth lives a brimful life by spending time with her husband and three kids and with running, speed skating and watching cooking competition shows on TV which is ironic because she hates to cook.

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