Crucial Conversations asserts that if we improve how we communicate, we can improve our relationships and results in every facet of our lives. This assertion has strong implications for the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) effort that has grown significantly in recent years.
During the first five months of the Covid pandemic, DEI jobs grew by 123 percent, even though millions of jobs were lost around the country. In addition, the DEI function—typically housed in the human resources department—is becoming a core business function with a chief diversity officer who reports directly to the executive team.
Unfortunately, the millions of hours and billions of dollars spent on DEI training have not produced overwhelming results. A growing number of critics and anecdotal evidence suggest that:
- DEI training often categorizes people based on immutable characteristics rather than emphasize new attitudes and behaviors at work.
- The tools, resources, and mentoring needed to produce lasting change are often lacking following DEI training programs.
- The results of DEI training are often short lived since attitudes, behaviors, and corporate cultures are difficult to change.
It is not surprising that such a laudable effort is struggling to produce results. It takes time to cultivate great outcomes in organizations.
Here is the challenge: while some organizational changes can improve diversity and equity, the kind of inclusivity we seek cannot be mandated or enforced. Candice Bristow, a director of equity, inclusion, and diversity for a tech company, says, “No matter how diverse your team is, your DEI efforts will fail if you don’t provide equitable programs and inclusive environments.”
What’s required is genuine civility, and that means we must internalize civil values and practice civil behaviors. We need an inside-out approach that involves learning how to think, speak, and act civilly. Principles and skills from Crucial Conversations help us follow this inside-out approach, and my own studies further suggest that civility is an inside-out job.
I have spent many years searching for proven principles that can improve our relationships and promote greater civility in organizations. I have scoured the original texts of our great religious founders, the writings of world-renowned philosophers, and recent research in the field of positive psychology.
This quest has led me to identify six principles that produce positive results in real time. If we apply one or more of them today, we will experience more civil relationships today. If we continue to apply them over time, they become part of our character.
I expand on these principles with research and examples in my new book, One People One Planet: Six Universal Truths for Being Happy Together. Three of these principles are highly relevant to the kinds of Crucial Conversations people face in organizations: refrain from judging others, do good deeds daily, and forgive each other of our offenses.
Refrain from Judging Others
We construct images of other people based on rather superficial cues: color, race, nationality, physical features, education, place of residence, and so on. The problem is our perceptions are always incomplete, often inaccurate, and sometimes dead wrong. Our limited perceptions result in biases, and they in turn can lead to alienation, divisions between groups, and tension in organizations.
Challenging our tendency to judge leads to more satisfying relationships and greater happiness, and this can only happen if we address both thinking and behavior. Here are some examples of how we might think, speak, and act to reduce our tendency to judge others at work.
- My perceptions of others are not always accurate.
- Everyone in this organization can contribute something of value.
- We are all more alike than we are different.
- “I need to get to know him better.”
- “I need to understand why she is doing this.”
- “He has a lot of good qualities we should support.”
- Go to lunch with someone you may not like.
- Have a conversation about your backgrounds.
- Talk through issues that are impacting your work.
You may find this principle similar to Master My Stories as taught in Crucial Conversations. When we recognize that our judgments and stories are limited, we open ourselves up to different perspectives. Refraining from judging allows us to be more inclusive of others and their viewpoints.
Do Good Deeds Daily
As we refrain from judging others, we are less likely to get caught up in petty or negative emotions and behaviors, and we are more inclined to do good in our organizations.
Good deeds obviously benefit others, but they also benefit us. Numerous studies show that serving others can significantly improve our emotional health, physical health, and satisfaction in relationships. In addition, doing good deeds helps us realize we are of value and have something to contribute, which increases our feelings of self-worth. Here is the inside-out process for developing this quality of doing good deeds daily.
- How can I use my skills to contribute to the goals of my organization?
- Do any of my colleagues need my help?
- I will look for opportunities to contribute.
- “How are things going for you today?”
- “Is there anything I can do for you?”
- “Let’s see if we can help this new team member.”
- Give a welcome gift to a new employee.
- Mentor a team member who needs your expertise.
- Call and visit someone who is struggling.
A related principle from Crucial Conversations is Start with Heart. Start with Heart teaches us to focus on what we want long-term for ourselves, for others, and for our relationships. When we focus on the long-term health of our relationships and the good we can contribute daily, we foster greater equity in our communities and organizations.
Forgive Each Other of Our Offenses
The more relationships we develop in life, the more likely we are to offend and be offended by others. Making mistakes is a normal part of our human experience. Holding grudges or resentments against people who offend us, however, only hurts us.
Forgiveness is vital to healing ourselves emotionally and increasing civil behavior in our organizations. In time, we can learn to not take offense in the first place. Here are examples of the inside-out process for learning to forgive.
- Am I holding grudges against anyone at work?
- What can I do to make this situation better?
- I truly want to let go of these negative feelings.
- “She is still learning and can overcome this behavior.”
- “I don’t think he’s actually aware of what he is doing.”
- “I know he can change this behavior in the future.”
- Forgive a boss who has offended you at work.
- Forgive a colleague who has hurt your feelings.
- Forgive yourself for a past mistake you have made.
This principle also relates to Master My Stories. When offended or irritated, we can ask ourselves, “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person do this?” This question can help us forgive offenses or realize none was intended in the first place.
We can create diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations if we learn civil values and practice civil behaviors. Changing our thoughts, speech, and actions will produce better results than efforts to mandate outcomes alone. Teaching civil values and behaviors is the next step beyond DEI.
You can learn more about the research and application of these principles and others in One People One Planet: Six Universal Truths for Being Happy Together.
If you have comments or questions, please share them below.