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Are we asking the right people, the right questions?

June 3, 2016

I had the privilege of attending the annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychologists (SIOP) this year in Anaheim, California. One of the things that I love about attending this event is the incredible energy that I get from being a part of conversations about the latest research trends impacting organizations and talent, and how to apply these findings to both improve organizations and maximize talent.

My excitement peaked this year when I learned that my colleague, Charley Morrow, would be co-chairing a panel on “Inclusive Leadership: Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity from the Top.” Participants who attended our panel were fully engaged, and asked great questions like, “Does Inclusion mean the same thing to everyone?” and “How do we measure the ROI of Inclusion?”

I, like many others in the room, was in a problem-solving mode…thinking of ways to promote the importance of inclusion with my clients, methods for facilitating culture change, frameworks for developing leaders, and how to measure the impact of all these initiatives.

And then I was struck by something. There were a number of empty seats in the room.

I thought to myself: Doesn’t everyone share the same opinion that inclusion is critical in organizations today?

Well, the short answer is no.

And while some of us are busy asking: How do we become more inclusive? we may be overlooking those who are still asking: Do we need to become more inclusive? There are enough research studies from reputable sources to demonstrate the many advantages of inclusivity, yet there are those who remain unconvinced. Is it because they simply do not believe the data, or is there something else at play? Have they taken the time to be reflective and introspective, and to truly evaluate how their beliefs serve them and those around them? Whatever the driver, one thing is clear: Without winning over their hearts and minds, our efforts toward being more inclusive could actually alienate some, and ultimately fail.

So, perhaps before we can answer the question about how, we should open the dialogue and find ways to include those who have yet to join the conversation. Here are some ideas for getting started:

  1. Be curious. Rather than entering the conversation with preconceived ideas of why others think the way that they do, allow them to explain their position. You might be surprised what you learn about their values and the topic at hand.
  2. Manage your reactions. Suspending your own judgment will help you manage the way you react, which can in turn facilitate an open and honest dialogue.
  3. Listen, listen, listen. You may be tempted to jump in early and share your own opinions, but this can actually cause the other person to shut down, if done too early. Instead, listen to what they have to say. Then, ask permission to share your point of view.
  4. Meet them where they are. Once you know their point of view, you’ll better understand what is important to them, and you can tailor your message accordingly.
  5. Be trustworthy. Let them know that they can trust you, and that you will hold the conversation in confidence.
  6. Be courageous. It can be difficult to ask people who have differing points of view to have a conversation. Work through this by reminding yourself why having these conversations regularly is important for everyone involved.

This is not an easy issue to address, and it is true that we as a society have been trying to address it for decades. We cannot give up. We cannot stop having the conversations, and we should definitely not shy away from bringing more and more people to the table. For only as we do, will we begin to see real, meaningful change in the world. It starts with that first conversation and asking the right people, the right questions.

Dark haired woman watches from audience of conference event

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