Having a policy of openness, honesty, and transparency can help to make a workplace more inviting, engaging, and attractive to a diverse range of employees – but it also is something that needs handling carefully, in order to remain respectful of everyone. In order to be fair and giving everyone the same opportunities, you need to treat your staff equitably – that means not necessarily treating them all the same, you want to level the playing field, but in order to do that, sometimes you do have to do more (or less) for certain people. Respectful conversation is key.
When it comes to having conversations in the office, there is a significant concern that people can be offended or offensive, sometimes intentionally (which you should be dealing with in relation to your disciplinary and grievance procedures) – but more often it is unintentional, and unless these situations are addressed carefully, they can develop into something worse, or give the impression that your business allows discrimination.
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In order to have respectful conversations, where everyone is fairly protected, here are 5 quick tips to take on board:
- Don’t just jump to conclusions
Sometimes you can see a “hot topic” or the “thing of the moment” in the media and feel like you need to jump on board and react. But before you do this, think carefully about the changes you are planning on bringing in – are they actually what the staff affected want, or is this the case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease?
If you have a platform for conversation (such as Slack), or somewhere that you can put questions / polls – consider putting a general question up (not just for the people involved) and see what individuals all think.
Or, if you have specific people that are going to be impacted, ask them if they are comfortable having a discussion in private over the matter – and get their input!
- Don’t be afraid to ask
Asking questions in today’s environment of jumping to judgement can feel scary, but it is much better to approach a situation with a polite preface, rather than jumping in feet first.
If colleagues want to ask a potentially sensitive question, either of another co-worker or policy, they should be encouraged to do so.
You might want to suggest that they acknowledge that the question may be controversial or divisive, but that they are asking from a genuine position and not one of negativity.
Something along the lines of, “I’d like to ask you about X – I’m aware that this is a sensitive subject, but this is a genuine question, and I’d like to improve my knowledge and awareness of X.”
- Be understanding of people and situations
Encourage your staff to consider other people – there are times and places to have conversations and to ask questions, and they should be thinking of this before engaging.
Ask them to consider – is this the right time? Is the topic something that is sensitive – should it be discussed in this situation? Is a verbal conversation appropriate, or would this be better done in a different format?
Conversation shouldn’t be something to be afraid of, but at the same time, building a culture of understanding and respect does require thought.
- Don’t use cliché phrases
Anyone who hears the phrase, “No offense, but…” is not going to hear anything after ‘but’ as anything other than completely offensive, and these days, “no offense” is often considered to be a cop-out and excuse for being horrifically offensive.
Training on sensitivity and appropriate behaviours should also cover this – that saying, “no offense” isn’t an excuse or permission to do and say what you want.
It ranks up there with, “lessons have been learned” for lines that no one believes, and actually thinks worse of you for.
- Call out behaviour that isn’t appropriate
For all that you can have training and mentoring, provide suggestions and positive processes, if you don’t have the ability to put these into action – then they’re just pretty words that cover the business from liability, and little else.
Encourage staff to call out bad or unacceptable behaviour – by having a process where it is addressed, then the reason for the behaviour can be determined (whether it’s accidental or indicative of something more sinister) – and learning can be a continuous process.
It’s important that people have the ability to speak up, but they should also not be judged in the court of public opinion – so carefully manage your process to protect both parties.