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Have you ever disagreed with a coworker? I am not talking about a disagreement on how to approach a work project, but rather a disagreement with their views on diversity, inclusion or other political stances. Did you engage them in a conversation about why you disagree, or did you just choose not to join?
In the past, I decided to go for the latter – deciding that it was not my place to have conversations with my team members about their beliefs or their values in the workplace. It was until I encountered members of my team whose views of the world were in direct contradiction with our values as a company.
Individuals become leaders because people trust and believe in them. They stick to their word, respect boundaries, treat everyone equally and hold others accountable when they cross a boundary. Over the past two years, I have had to hold myself and my team members accountable for our commitment to a “happy people, happy and diverse culture.” I got to chat with members of my team who had different opinions, with the goal of trying to understand our differences and to determine if our company was really the best place for them.
Holding people accountable – especially to family members, friends, and even our peers – is easy to do. We are often tempted to avoid uncomfortable conversations, but it is precisely this restlessness that we feel should be the sign to talk about it and resolve it.
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it’s okay to disagree
It can be hard to approach controversial conversations without knowing the outcome or all the right things to say. It’s important to remember that part of the process is messing up, saying the wrong thing, apologizing, and learning how to do better. In a polarized world where people with one political viewpoint or another are only receiving information from sources that validate their opinions, responsible leaders can open up new spaces for more authentic conversations.
One of our company’s objectives at Quantum Metrics is to have a healthy and diverse culture, as we believe that creating an equal workplace will not happen by itself. Supported by a workforce diverse in gender, ethnicity and even cognitive abilities, leaders can make better decisions more effectively, run businesses that make more money and help employees feel more represented and heard. Creating an environment that includes and supports diverse teams involves encouraging and mediating difficult conversations around highly charged social issues.
Within a team of leaders who promote diversity there is a responsibility to create an inclusive and safe space to protect and refine those values. The issue isn’t just about hiring or working with people who think the exact same way you do. The need is to set boundaries to ensure that every member of your team feels heard, safe and included. Having those difficult conversations gives you an opportunity to disagree and understand which side of that boundary someone might fall on. With that culture, come many opinions – those we, as leaders, agree with and those we don’t.
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poking holes can be a good thing
My son is 12 now, but at an early age he learned to break his mother’s boundaries and I prepared for him. learning about boundaries is a important part of early childhood developmentBut it was equally important for him to question and discuss some of the rules with us, even if they didn’t get their way in the end.
In the same way, an ethical leader needs to set boundaries for his team to feel safe and thrive, but also allows people to question those boundaries in a healthy way. When employees question company policies, leaders may call out areas that may be redundant, out of date or in need of adjustment.
If someone doesn’t conform to the company’s diversity policies, first give them a chance to open their mind with a conversation. Let them poke holes, but step in with the facts when their critiques are way off the mark. If they refuse to scrutinize their fixed mindset and their presence makes others feel insecure or undervalued, a leader needs to realize that no one will ever represent that they are part of a company. Who are as
It’s hard to stick to their values, but there are times when leaders need to draw the line no matter who breaks the rules – even when they do it themselves.
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Tough conversations are for learning, not for winning
A true leader knows that good conversations are about learning, not winning, especially when someone disagrees. Being open to hearing other’s experiences is an opportunity to better understand their opinion and how it may affect their work or team. This openness goes both ways – employees with more experience in social issues may think the company’s approach to diversity may be better, while other employees may be in direct conflict with it. Leaders demonstrate a willingness to listen to differing points of view, not to win someone else over, but to determine whether this individual’s disagreement can be considered aligned with their organization.
In recent years, social media has facilitated more difficult conversations than ever before. In this way we get better and start correcting the mistakes of the society. For me, having difficult conversations with my team motivates me to explore and understand issues I might not have thought about otherwise. So, when my daughter comes to me to ask about the struggles of transgender teens, for example, I can interact with her in a more informative way.
The power to accelerate social change is in our hands whenever we choose to have difficult conversations. We spend most of our waking hours at work, and global disruption, waves of change and political pressure don’t happen just after 5:00. There is an opportunity to do much more than just achieve business success, and it starts with open, honest, and yes, sometimes difficult discussions with each other.