Implementing a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practice can be an emotional topic for employees with preconceived notions or those adverse to the change spurred by new company initiatives. It can also be difficult for middle managers to navigate because, while they are often not in the meetings with the DEI consultants or leaders, they are on the front lines of employee interaction. Fielding questions, concerns, and opinions can be challenging for those who are not trained to facilitate these conversations. And, middle managers are sometimes provided information in a trickle down manner rather than an intentional one.

Strategic and frequent communication on initiatives on the horizon and progress is vital to ensuring buy in with your broader employee population. Similarly, it’s important for middle managers to be empowered with a framework to have and facilitate positive discussions. Joseph Grenny, co-author of the book, “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High”, offered tips on how to share opinions at work without dissolving into hard feelings and loss of respect.

Frame your conversation as a chance to learn from each other, not to change each other’s minds. Simply being curious about another’s position is sufficient motivation to engage. That may sound like: “I know what I think about this issue, but I’m curious about why you feel so differently. Would you be open to sharing your position with me?”

Show respect. Others will not engage with you if they don’t feel respected by you. Over-communicate your respect for the other person and their opinion: “I value you and your perspective. I want to hear from you. I don’t assume I’m right.” “What have you experienced or learned that led you to feel that way?”

Most importantly, don’t forget the “pause button.” It’s important when employees are having emotion-forward conversations to step in and push pause if they are escalating or becoming disrespectful. In conversations where there can be differing views, taking a breath will also help managers be more mindful and intentional when they speak.

In interacting with employees around topics of diversity and inclusion, it will be helpful to relate your efforts around respect, empathy, and understanding to the DEI efforts that are underway in your organization. Remember that with organizational change, employees carefully watch the words and actions of leaders. Reiterate your core values and demonstrate leadership through empathy.

About the Author


Jackie Ferguson is a certified diversity executive and co-founder of The Diversity Movement, and head writer of the Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox online course library. Jackie is a Cary Magazine columnist and member of the National Diversity Council.

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