Inclusive Conversations: Confrontation versus Conversations
Two weeks ago, my college friend Kim Pevia and I led the second webinar in The Inclusive Conversations series called How to Talk to Your Boss (and co-workers) about offensive communications.
It was all about how to stop ignoring “The Crunch,” have difficult conversations in the office, and promote a more inclusive environment. We think that communication’s pros are uniquely positioned to be Champions for Inclusion and Diversity.
We had a few more people share how they felt about the crunch in the office, but we also realize that people are shy about the topic. We get it. We are stepping into a brave new space with our friends out there. Even the title of the webinar could be perceived as confrontational, so we are excited about those who took the next step of joining the conversation.
Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Ignore the Crunch:
- According to the Centre for Conflict Resolution International, more than 65 percent of performance problems at work stem from strained workplace relationships. When conflict gets ignored, performance and collaboration suffer.
- Unhealthy confrontation. Bottled up feelings and unresolved conflict often result in blowups.
One person wrote on a post weeks ago that she has an employer who continues to call her “girlfriend” and use a vernacular style that she clearly “doesn’t understand” and “only uses it toward me.” By the time I circled back with her on a private Facebook message, she said that seeing all the posts made her more and more angry. She had confronted her boss in a fit of anger. While she didn’t share the impact, I don’t think the conversation was as productive as she hoped it would be.
Recently someone asked for our advice…
Ryan said, “I feel the ‘crunch’ whenever my colleagues refer to illegal immigrants as ‘undocumented citizens.’ How should I handle it? Should I point out to her that it makes me uncomfortable, and why? (Factually misrepresents what ‘citizen’ means, undermines the work my grandparents did over many years to become legal immigrants to this country, forces a political agenda on our nonpolitical workplace) Let me know how I should speak up to confront her.”
Ryan had a good point so I wrote back to say…
“Thanks for sharing your “crunch.” Your feelings regarding the offensive language should be discussed in a conversation (let’s use that term, rather than confrontation). I don’t know if you were able to join our Inclusive Conversations webinar last week, but we shared some tools that could make having this talk more productive. Breathe. Listen. Determine if she/they are open to the discussion. If/when they are receptive you could lead with “I statements” and “affirm some of the same values.” I’m no expert…so this is peer advice here. Maybe that begins with… “I would like to speak with you about some language that ‘bothers’ me. When people refer to illegal immigrants as ‘undocumented citizens,’ it gives me a crunchy feeling because I feel like it introduces politics into a workplace that we value because it is a nonpolitical environment. Is this a good time to talk about how this impacts me?” If she/they are open, then share your professional and personal crunch with the language. Please keep us posted as to how your conversation goes. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.”
I wanted to share more with our friend and I thought this would be a good scenario to talk about in distinguishing confrontation from conversation. I went back to several things we mentioned in the webinar and how that might help with dilemmas like Ryan’s.
Start with taking a deep breath. It sounds simple, but it’s an important part of the process. I’ve seen my friend Kim Pevia in action during meetings and she writes, “When feeling challenged the biology goes into fight/flight/freeze and the mind is flooded with chemicals that disallow us to access our greatest thinking at a time when our greatest thinking is required in order to come to understanding. Our reptilian mind feels under attack and our ego determines to take to no prisoners, to conquer, to win. If there is a winner, there must be a loser, which creates a cycle that disallows for communication. Communication is about understanding, not about who wins and who loses.”
1) Ask yourself …
“What do I want from this conversation?”
“Am I seeking to convert this person to my way of thinking?”
“Why is that important to me?”
“Is it from my ego?”
“Why am I so certain that my way of thinking is correct?”
“Am I willing to see things from their point of view?”
“Am I being open-minded in the same way I am asking them to be?”
“How will I handle my biology when conflict arises?”
2) Assess the environment …
“Is there danger involved?”
“How far am I willing to take this conversation?”
“Is this person/organization OPEN to the conversation?”
“Is this person/organization NOT OPEN NOW to the conversation?” [Maybe it’s simply bad timing or they process differently in conflict.]
“Is this person/organization NOT OPEN EVER to the conversation?”
3) Are you still willing to engage?
After assessing the situation, are you willing to take the next step? Is it worth the risk after you’ve made your assessments? Do you value the relationship and outcome enough to move forward?
For me, the imagery of climbing on a seesaw is the difference between confrontation and conversation. When I was a young girl on the playground my friends and I would take turns going back and forth, up and down, until we communicated it was time to stop for the day. Our communication, both verbal and non-verbal, was essential, otherwise one of us would get plopped down on a painful “ouch.”
This is a good metaphor for what it’s like to be in an open conversation. And it’s also a reminder that there were some people on the playground who would intentionally hop off the seesaw in midair causing the other person to experience great pain. On the one hand, protecting yourself as you are initiating Inclusive Conversations and having a safe exchange is valuable (everyone isn’t seesaw worthy). On the other hand, stay aware of your biology as you’re being honest.
Kim P. reminds that honesty doesn’t have to be brutal. It’s all about having the MOST TRUTH with THE MOST CARE, and conversation rather than confrontation.
In our next webinar Inclusive Conversations: Beyond Policy Into Practice we’re going to talk about how other communications professionals are testing out the Inclusive Conversations strategies and share some advice on tools for keeping your allies with you during these difficult CAREfrontations.