Supporting colleagues series (Roe v. Wade)
Psychologists and counselors say that we need to engage with heavy topics because they, and the conflict they bring, won’t go away by ignoring them.
“Companies can’t, and shouldn’t try to, quash these conversations because — contrary to popular belief — they’re already happening. But what they can do is create inclusive cultures of civility where difference isn’t a disruption.”
JOHNNY C. TAYLOR JR., CEO, SOCIETY FOR HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
Rather than attempt to stop the conversation, we need to shape the spaces these conversations happen in.
If we set the right boundaries and guidelines, we can feel psychologically safe enough to have a difficult discussion and know that we will come out of it unscathed.
Psychological safety = a type of trust between people and groups that makes us feel safe enough to speak up, disagree and make mistakes without fear of retaliation.
There are four things we can do when talking about challenging topics. These four actions will make observers perceive us as more diplomatic, more persuasive and more likely to maintain relationships with others.
💡 Frame it as a learning opportunity. Bringing something up so you can convince people that you’re right is a no-no. We don’t come into work to be lectured at, much less about things unrelated to our job.
Show that you’re open to hearing the other person’s point of view and that you’re not armed with an agenda. Try asking, “I wonder if you could tell me more about your stance on this to help me understand?”
💡 Ask for permission. If your colleague shares their own view, remember that doesn’t automatically entitle you to share yours. Instead, ask if you can share your opinion. That could sound like, “I feel differently. Would you mind if I shared my point of view?”
💡 Be respectful. We have less motivation to play nice if the other person doesn’t show respect. Start with, “I respect your opinion and I don’t presume that either of us is right or wrong.”
💡 Find your common ground. In her book, Braving the Wilderness, researcher and storyteller Brené Brown writes, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.”.
When you sit on opposing sides of an argument, it gets worryingly easy to develop an “us” and “them” mentality. Refocus your lens to find areas you agree on and go from there. Try saying, “Let’s look at this in terms of the goals and values we both share.”.
Create a set of ground rules that everyone can use as a reference point when engaging in topics with multiple perspectives at work. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
❌ No generalizations or name-calling. Inflammatory terms like “snowflake” don’t help. Anything that can be said in contempt is off-limits because it regards a person with disgust.
Author Jonathan Haidt points out that we can get over our anger, “But disgust is different. Disgust paints the person as subhuman, monstrous, deformed, morally deformed.”.
🤷♀️ Give up winning the argument. In the bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says that so many of us damage our relationships by believing that arguments are something you can win. What happens when we usually “win” a heated argument is that the person who “loses” is left feeling resentful about being proved wrong. Not exactly the kind of feeling you want to promote between colleagues.
🙅♂️ Respect boundaries. Agree to use and respect phrases that signal when a conversation is unwelcome. Say “I’d rather not talk about this” or “I’m not in the right headspace for this conversation. Could we pick it up another time?”.
Aretha Franklin Queen GIF by @warnermusicgermany.
😢 Accept emotion. If you sense that the other person is getting emotional about the subject, accept their emotion and don’t gaslight by telling them that they’re overreacting or to calm down.
Stop the discussion to check on your colleague, “If this conversation is getting a bit much, we can agree to disagree for now. I respect you and your opinions and don’t want things to get in the way of our work friendship.”
🤔 Check your bias. A colleague you like and trust shares a point of view you strongly disagree with. Does it change how you feel about them? Possibly. Does it change how you interact with them at work? Possibly.
Remind yourself that someone’s personal opinion on a topic is just one aspect of them. Imagine the reverse situation where a colleague found out your views and started treating you differently. Would it bother you to suddenly be judged exclusively on one topic? Is it fair to act differently towards a colleague because of something that doesn’t affect your or their work?
Differences of opinion don’t have to be uncivil. We can learn to be more diplomatic and reasonable with each other by framing discussions around learning, asking for permission to share our thoughts, upholding respect and focusing on our common ground.
How do you approach discussions where you and other people might disagree? Is there anything you would add to your company’s list of ground rules?
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