Discussing Racism In The Workplace:

Discussing Racism In The Workplace:

Recent events have created an awareness, divide, concern and many other emotions. We are at a volatile and critical time for humanity, the economy and the workplace. As people return to work, many people of color are reporting extreme levels of exhaustion. Many white people are split between guilt and defensiveness. The worst thing any organization can do right now is nothing. On the other hand, a company-wide memo with a sanitized corporate statement isn’t going to do the trick either. What should companies do?

Dialogue is going to be the most important first step. Here are a few tips by Kwame Christian Esq., M.A., the director of the American Negotiation Institute.

Set some ‘rules of engagement.’ When going through unpredictable viewpoints and volatile emotions, it’s important for everyone in the dialogue to agree to some basic behavior guidelines to set the conversation up for success.

  1. Assume good intent. Kwame recommends ensuring that people are willing to commit to assuming good intent, especially with those participants you may not agree with. “We are not going to say all the right things in all the right ways,” Kwame warns. “It’s important that we assume good intent or we’ll never get further than where we are.”
  2. Clarify approach for when things get heated. Things are bound to get heated when discussing racism. This isn’t a bad thing. Emotions need to be expressed. However, there should be some way to make sure it doesn’t escalate to a point of complete dysfunction.
  3. Assign a moderator. This is to help make sure people feel there is a neutral person to guide the dialogue. This should be done in a manner that enables people to feel heard. This is also to help everyone stay focused. Having someone that can facilitate that discussion that is either an outsider, such as the services that Kwame and his team provide, or a trusted leader that is known for creating emotional safety in their discussions with all participants can make all the difference.
  4. Allow for authentic dialogue. This isn’t the time to try to clean up and limit expression. It’s critical that people of color in the workplace are finally in a place where they can safely express what they are feeling and experience without fear of retaliation or negative judgment. White employees will need help understanding how to express their questions and reactions without overwhelming the conversation with their own needs.
  5. Set up the dialogue to happen in phases. This isn’t a one-time dialogue. This needs to occur over several conversations. The first dialogue will most likely need to focus on making sure people of color get to share openly and honestly. Once they’ve truly been heard, there needs to be space for creating understanding across all people. Finally, they’ll need to be discussions around what to do to make a genuine change and positive impact. The frequency and number of these dialogues are going to vary depending on each workplace dynamic.

Source: Expert from an article authored by H.V. MacArthur, you can read the original article in its entirity here.

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