Bold Conversations About Race: Final Thoughts

Bold Conversations on Race: Final Thoughts

This is the seventh and final installment in a series of articles on what it means to have bold conversations about race.

The Winters Group is sponsoring a new feature at The Forum on Workplace Inclusion called Bold Conversations: Calling the Race Card. I started the series asking if we are ready to have bold conversations about race. The second piece explored the complex definitions of race and posited that it is really color rather than race that matters. The third post explored the idea of colorism. The first three posts were designed to provide background for why it is so difficult to have conversations about race. In the last three posts, I proposed some skills that are necessary to have bold conversations. This week I will share some final thoughts.

I hope that you have learned from this series that having effective conversations along racial lines is not necessarily easy. These are complex and emotion-charged issues and it requires developing skills to increase the likelihood of success. First we have to have clear objectives about what we are trying to achieve with the dialogue. Is it to share knowledge? To enhance understanding? To convince the other that your position is right? Without clear objectives and shared understanding of the desired outcomes, the conversation is doomed to fail.

Next we need to explore whether we have the skills necessary to engage in these conversations. Some would argue that the skills that I am recommending are what we would consider “soft.” That may be the case, but most behavioral scientists agree that these are the skills that lead to personal and organizational success. In summary the skills that we need to develop for effective dialogue across race include:

Modifying your listening skills

  • Listen for your own cultural assumptions, perceptions and expectations.
Asking questions

  • Learn about other views, work styles and assumptions, and needs. Encourage others to do the same.
  • Be comfortable in asking questions about the preferred terminology, pronunciations, etc.
Shifting frame of reference when necessary

  • Demonstrate empathy and understanding for other values, attitudes and beliefs; distinguish empathy from agreement.
  • Be flexible in your approach to situations. There are many ways of doing things.
Managing conflict constructively

  • Demonstrate an understanding of different cultural assumptions about what conflict is and alternative ways of dealing with it.
Recognizing unconscious bias and stereotypes

  • Know your own culture, why you believe what you believe, your history and early experiences that have shaped your value system.
  • Be aware of and monitor your own unconscious biases and stereotypes.
  • Ask people you trust to give you feedback on potential biases that you may not be aware of.
Showing respect for and interest in the other person

  • Learn about the cultures of those around you (geography, customs, history, etc.)
Striving to interact meaningfully with those who you perceive as “different”

  • Learn to feel and exhibit comfort with groups and individuals from other cultures. (E.g. spend time with people from diverse groups both at work and outside of work.)
  • Give cultural information about yourself freely when it is requested.
  • Be open and accommodating to other’s needs to gain information. Do not assume that they know what you know.
Striving to be nonjudgmental

  • Continually ask yourself if you are making a value judgment about others, rather than recognizing that others might just do things differently that you.
  • Remember that we are programmed to make snap judgments. Continuously work on this tendency in order to reduce such behavior.
Making decisions using a “cultural” lens

  • When making decisions, ask yourself, does this work for most or am I making assumptions based only on my own world view and cultural frame?

Like any skill, these take practice and intentionality. It is a life-long endeavor to become culturally competent.

About Mary-Frances Winters

Mary-Frances Winters, president and founder of The Winters Group, Inc. is a master strategist with over 30 years experience in strategic planning, change management, diversity, organization development, training and facilitation, systems thinking and qualitative and quantitative research methods. She has extensive experience in working with senior leadership teams to drive organizational change. Described by clients as highly creative, collaborative, visionary and results oriented, she is a sought after keynote speaker and workshop leader.

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