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Beyond DEI: The Next Step to Civility

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.

Positive Thoughts

  • 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.

Positive Speech

  • “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.”

Positive Actions

  • 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.

Positive Thoughts

  • 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.

Positive Speech

  • “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.”

Positive Actions

  • 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.

Positive Thoughts

  • 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.

Positive Speech

  • “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.”

Positive Actions

  • 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.

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27 thoughts on “Beyond DEI: The Next Step to Civility”

  1. genetg

    “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.” Hmmm … effective DEI work and learning recognizes the adaptive challenges, and is not about mandating outcomes. I use crucial conversations tenets and skills all the time, including in my equity-centered work. But, imho, this piece is written from a white dominant culture perspective (I am also white). I hope you have the opportunity to participate in on-going, effective DEIJ learning.

    1. Marjorie

      It seems you have some judgement about the contents of this blog when you point out that this piece is written from a white dominant culture perspective. The author appears to be part of several privileged classes…aren’t those the people that have the most work to do? Members of the privileged groups are the ones that need the inclusivity message the most, don’t you think?

    2. Darrell H.

      It seems to me that mastering my stories also applies to assumptions like “this piece is written from a white dominant culture perspective.” Even if it is written from that perspective, 1) assuming good intent on the writer’s part is a step toward healing and advancing DEI, and 2) harboring hostility toward white dominance both ignores reality (in the U.S. Whites are, in fact, the dominant ethnicity) and creates an us/them posture that harms cultural unity. I think Crucial Conversations principles and skills go both ways. Otherwise, how can we hope to come together?

      1. C. P.

        I think you’re reading more hostility into what he’s saying than he actually is. It is something to recognize when one is reading a piece by someone in multiple privileged classes, as the actions prescribed will be different than for someone in an unprivileged class talking to someone in another unprivileged class, or even a member of an unprivileged class talking to people in a privileged class.

        There is something to be said at this point in the DE&I journey about white folks talking to other white folks and leaving out those in equity work that we wish to elevate to an equitable position.

        Because there is a big difference between forgiving a colleague who offended one at work by missing your name in the company presentation vs. forgiving a colleague who did a microaggression or overt racist act against one.

        Preaching forgiveness for one is a matter of letting go, the other is being forced to forgive an attacker for attacking. And that’s not right.

        Personally I didn’t like this article, because it seems very trite, but my takeaways were: understand where we are, actively work to stop judging people quickly and maintaining grudges, and to continue to work on elevating people that deserve a spot at the table with those of privileged classes.

        1. Scott Jackson

          FYI, I bought his book for my Kindle on sale right now for $0.99; and I’m enjoying reading it so far. Our ancestors from all over the world have left us a great legacy of wisdom to help guide our behavior today. It’s also compatible with Martin Seligman’s Positive Psychology (inventory of mental strengths) movement.

  2. Scott Jackson

    Thank you Michael Glauser! I’m planning to read your book. I’ve been a fan of Stephen Covey’s work since 1994 and his concept of putting timeless, universal principles at the center of one’s life. While DEI may have some value to humanity depending on the definitions used for the words, DEI as interpreted by me is no foundation for a civil society in a multi-racial, multi-cultural democratic republic. I like traditional virtue-ethics and deontology as the basis for my moral judgments. I do not like utilitarianism as I consider it grossly dehumanizing. Unfortunately, these days I appear to be surrounded by DEI utilitarians everywhere. Anyway, thanks again!

    1. Karen

      Mom had it right and very simple. Treat others as you want to be treated.

      1. Scott Jackson

        I agree. My parents taught me both the Golden Rule (don’t harm others) and the Iron Rule (don’t let others harm you). Properly balancing these two rules requires lots of ongoing work for me. The Golden Rule apples most of the time, but if I don’t remember the Iron Rule I’ll get run over again.

  3. Thomas Kendrick

    Not forgiving the person who wronged you is the essence of holding a grudge. If you forgive, you may be able to let go of your grudge and start to move on with your life. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

  4. Alex Hsu

    Great blog! I must be one of the most fortunate people in the world for having been fully immersed into multiple cultures and languages from a very young age, but it took me a long time to come across Crucial Conversations and only begin to learn to master my stories and to seek to understand others. I have read and referenced it a few times but still find myself failing at many of those skills everyday. I guess that I will always be work in progress. You are spot on that for inclusion to become part of our core, it must start with the process of self-discovery and of seeking to understand.

  5. Liz M

    I think these 6 principles are a key in leadership and any professional interaction. If you live them, and/or strive to live them you will find that they “leak” into your personal life and the interactions you have with everyone.

    DEI is being taught and encouraged in so many ways, it is hard to keep up with all of the “right things to do or what NOT to do”. These principles make it so much easier. Do good things, be kind, care for others, forgive, etc…. Thank you for the reminders and application.

  6. Mary

    I’m a senior citizen and this advice sounds like “good old fashion” Christianity to me.

    1. Karen

      Amen.

    2. C. P.

      I think the trouble here though, is that its not necessarily that. It may be some lessons preached in the Bible, but many “old fashioned Christians” did things that are definitely against these principles.

      At the same time, we have many people in the world who are “not Christian” that these principles need to work with, and there’s a reflection that’s missing from the article in that respect. Just because I have those values does not mean others will. And others who have different values and practices need to be respected as well.

      Overall, these are meant to be principles for being a good person regardless of what religion you are. Its not really necessary to bring religion into this way of thinking.

  7. Becki F.

    As a DEI practitioner, I found this blog very interesting and in line with the programs I’m responsible for and facilitate (including Crucial Conversations) in my organization. Education, including in the DEI space, should include “think, say, do” to truly inspire measurable behavior change. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Alfreda Goods

    DEI can be enhanced when people have respect for others, are kind to others and set aside their stereotypes to accept people they perceive are different. Different does not mean inferior it is just different.

  9. Meredith

    I am very disappointed in this article as well as many of the comments. I have found that Crucial Conversations/Learning often is a bit tone deaf in its DEI articles and work. Civility does not have anything to do with institutional, structural, or individual racism. This article actually makes me rethink my use of Critical Learning moving forward. I am curious if the Crucial Learning staff will be responsive to this concern.

    1. James Brown

      Meredith – I’m not a representative of Crucial Learning but I’m wondering about your comment. What about this is tone deaf? I’d like to hear more about your perspective.

    2. Ryan Trimble

      I am not a spokesperson for Crucial Learning, but as editor I was able to work with the author on this piece and I can share my perspective on it.

      As I understand it, the article suggests that structural changes alone are not sufficient to create diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. We must also have our hearts in the right place.

      On the surface, that claim seems uncontroversial, and it’s consistent with what we teach as an organization. We know from our work in Influencer that to bring about organizational change, you must target structural sources of influence. Hiring processes, equal pay, policies that prohibit discrimination, and so on are examples of structural forces that I’m sure impact diversity and equity.

      But the inclusion part, as I understand the author, comes down to civil values. As we teach in Crucial Conversations, good dialogue skills won’t get you far unless you Start with Heart. Motive matters.

      In other words, we might improve diversity and equity with policies and programs (structural influence), but including one another in our cultures depends on how we treat one another.

      I think the author is encouraging readers to not lose sight of motives and behavior in their efforts to make workplace cultures more equitable and inclusive.

      I don’t think we see ourselves as experts in DEI. We’re confident that our material can help organizations in their DEI efforts—with dialogue, accountability, and change management—but probably as part of larger initiatives.

      Finally, this article does not represent our work. It is a guest post by a new author sharing his work. We shared it believing our audience might find the topic interesting.

      I hope that’s helpful, and thank you for sharing your input.

  10. Scott Jackson

    Hi Meredith, you appear to be sincere in your beliefs regarding institutional, structural and individual racism. Since I’m skeptical, the best way to persuade and influence a person like me is to communicate your beliefs in a civil manner. Then I’ll reflect that civility back to you in a dialogue. To be honest, most people don’t change their beliefs once they acquire them. But through civil dialogue, we’ll understand each other and most likely respect each other’s humanity, even though we disagree. It’s not good to let politics, religion or life philosophy interfere with friendship. I just finished the chapter on “Give Up The Ego” in the “One People One Planet” book and I have a lot of work to do in taming my ego!

    1. Elizabeth Venstra

      I can’t speak for Meredith, but I was somewhat disappointed in this article as well, and I believe that institutional, structural, and individual racism are real problems in our society today, so I will take your invitation to civil dialogue, for what it’s worth. As a frame for understanding where I’m coming from, I am by no means an expert in DEI, and it’s not part of my day job. I occupy various identities that are mostly privileged (white, middle class, educated, etc.)

      I think the actions recommended here–don’t judge others, be kind, etc.–are necessary, but definitely not sufficient, to making progress toward a truly just multicultural society. Sure, when you catch yourself judging others, try to suspend judgment. But one of the problems is that we all have implicit biases that cause us to make judgments that we’re not even aware of. It’s easy to believe we are more rational and objective than we are, and even if we have been raised by people who don’t consciously believe in racism, still, the perspective that says “this is what normal looks like,” where “normal” = white, heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian, etc., is all around us in our culture. We need to learn to explicitly look out for certain biases, or we just won’t see them.

      Second, we may intend to be nice, but still cause harm when we are unaware of the issues affecting people who are different from ourselves. By learning about the perspective of people who face microaggressions so frequently that all the little stings add up to a barrage big enough to take a significant toll, we can avoid causing harm without meaning to, and not put the burden on those people to educate all of us individually–again, and again, and again, and again, and again . . .

      I hope this helps!

  11. Scott Jackson

    Hi Elizabeth, thank you for considerate response!
    I’m a pitifully slow writer.

    So for me, “dialogue talk” has to be face-to-face communication.
    I’ve recently been doing dialogue talk with a person who believes I have extreme political views. The dialogue talk has been working in the sense that we understand each other’s viewpoints much better now and the negative emotional responses have been dialed back considerably. Neither one of us has really changed our core beliefs.

    Before we did the dialogue talk, we only engaged in “connection talk” which is friendly and non-controversial, and occasional “control talk” which is adversarial and aggressive (not fun).

    For me, dialogue talk requires total focus and face-to-face listening and responding. It can be very intense and exhausting, but afterwards it feels very exhilarating to actually listen so carefully and respond honestly to another person.

    When I’m sincerely asked “How do I know?”, it makes me realize just how flimsy the basis for many of my beliefs are. As a result, I’m more careful about categorizing my beliefs into impressions (based on feelings), opinions (based on values) and knowledge (based on facts).

    This process has helped reduce the magnitude of my emotional attachment to my beliefs, and thus not take it so personally when my beliefs are criticized or challenged. This is not easy for me to do and requires much awareness and vigilance regarding my emotional state of mind.

    Overall, this is why I believe civility (such as in dialogue talk) is so important and why I’m convinced it’s such a key element in the foundation for healthy human relations. And of course, dealing with controversial issues such as DEI.

  12. Caleb

    “Unfortunately, the millions of hours and billions of dollars spent on DEI training have not produced overwhelming results.” What is this statement based upon?

    The three points that paint DEI training as ineffective, temporary, and unsupported also seem unsubstantiated. I would’ve appreciated more information about why DEI isn’t enough if we are then supposed to adopt more generalized advice about civility. I get that this was a guest author, but Crucial Learning usually does a better job of backing up statements like this.

    1. Ryan Trimble

      Good point, Caleb. Thank you. I hear you.

    2. Scott Jackson

      Hi Caleb, that’s a reasonable question.

      In general, how do we know any claim is true?

      For what it’s worth, here is my view on it:

      In the natural sciences, the scientific method of hypothesis testing is the way of creating scientific knowledge. Science is about descriptive facts, not about prescriptive values.

      In the social sciences, practitioners try to use the scientific method but there are lots of systematic problems with their findings (Goggle the Reproducibility / Replication Crisis). This is because the social sciences are about humans, and the values of the human social scientists can corrupt their supposed factual findings.

      So what about the effectiveness of the principles from the “One People One Planet” book or the principles from DEI training?

      I see these two things in the realm of ethics and values, which are more like politics, religion and philosophy. Not science.

      Ultimately, I like the One People One Planet principles because they match up with my worldview of traditional virtue-ethics and values.

      And likewise, I don’t like DEI training because I see it as the opposite of my worldview. It’s groupish, coercive and dehumanizing of individuals.

      FYI, my opinion of DEI has been greatly influenced by this book:

      Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay

      1. C. P.

        Scott, I’ve read the Pluckrose book. Its got too many misses in it to be useful in my opinion. There’s holes in their arguments and they completely miss neoliberalism as a fundamental cause for some of the things they blame on post-modernism, and they try to shoehorn ALL social justice into one category when the reality is quite different. But I digress.

        What I really wanted to add to in your comments was the thought about diversity training. If you’re talking about the general, all hands, forced diversity training, you’re absolutely right. The majority of people already have the knowledge that they would have had to gain at this training already. They don’t need to repeat it over and over.

        But there ARE training interventions that do work and have the solid evidence behind them. Targeted trainings towards increasing psychological safety, empathy, and interaction with diverse colleagues can do a lot. The key with ALL of them is that it can’t just be a one and done training, it has to be a continuous effort. If an effort is made to continue the efforts over time, the positive attitude change effects move into behavioral change for a portion of the audience. And training can only be one part of the plan – if other DE&I work isn’t being done, the training is worthless.

        The problem for most people is that their companies want to look good and not make the efforts to actually be good when it comes to DE&I. So the companies persist with the forced all hands training even when they know it has little effect on their employees because its cheap and gives them something to put on their DE&I page.

        A quick story because this is getting long (I apologize). I was at an event where the staff had banned the “manel” (aka an all white male panel). When we talked to the staff afterwards, they said it was not as much of a challenge as they thought to not use the same all white males that they always went to in order to speak, and they had ample staff experts ready to present. They just didn’t know they had them because they had never been asked to do so. Now there are dozens of expert speakers in that company instead of the same six dudes going to every event. And that is a fantastic DE&I intervention that didn’t cost them anything but a little time and effort. But had the staff not made an effort to try something new, it would have been those same six dudes up there until they retired. When we talked to their usual six dudes, they were thrilled because they didn’t have to be 100% travel for speaking engagements any more and could get other work done. You don’t hear about these kinds of interventions on a DE&I page, but they are incredibly effective and important.

      2. bean q

        “science is about descriptive facts, not about prescriptive values”
        As a scientist I like that (because I prescriptively value facts/data), but as a sociologist, I note that “hard science” is published into a social context and reproducibility is quite a problem there as well; I think what makes the social sciences even more difficult is the added issue that the results can so easily feed back onto the population at large nullifying the results once they’re too public.

        This is relevant in the context of crucial skills inasmuch as we discuss surveys and “the latest research” and “what we know from [xyz sociology]”, all of which employ a conflict of interest in even determinig the framing of data collection, let alone interpretation.

        I think Google and Facebook got it “best” (i.e. “worst”) when they just started collecting everyone’s behavioral data online so that they could point to empirical proof of human behavior for internal decisions before “the public” finds out how they actually behave.

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