Engage Your Team About Challenging Events

Jan 11, 2021

The events of 2020 within our culture have been so challenging! A pandemic leading to economic crisis followed by racial injustice protests segueing to a very contested election topped off with a riot at the U.S. Capitol Building. As humans we need to be able to talk about these things but how do we do it in a healthy way? 

Here are 5 guidelines that can help you have a healthy conversation around just about anything. They all begin with G to help you remember!

  1. Goal: A significant source of human conflict comes from our gap in expectations. A conversation about a difficult topic is sure to have a wide variety of expectations by the participants. Some may see it as a debate in which a right and wrong perspective will be declared. Others might see it as a trap or a set-up. Still, others might view it as a chance for leadership to just declare their opinion. And some may see it as a dialogue. The clearer you can be the more helpful it is for everyone. For example, you might email your team and say, "As humans, I think it's really important for us to have a healthy dialogue about all that is taking place in our country. I'll be in the breakroom at 3 for anyone that would like to have a dialogue. Participation is not at all mandatory. The goal will be a friendly exchange of ideas so we can hear one another. The goal is to understand the various perspectives not make yours rule the day."
  2. Ground rules: Setting ground rules is so important! There are healthy ways to have conversation and unhealthy ways. For example, the Gottman Institute has done some great work to illustrate how what they call the Four Horsemen leads to the death of a relationship. The Four Horsemen are Criticism, Blaming, Stone-walling, and Contempt. Some guidelines for the conversation might be as follows:
    • We will refrain from criticizing anyone's personhood. Things like, "you are an idiot if you believe that" has no place in the dialogue.
    •  We will not blame people. For example, we won't say things like, "Your party is the problem in our country."
    • Instead, we will talk about how we feel, question and wrestle with ideas, as well as speak about actions we see whether positive or negative.
  3. Gather common outcomes and values: A key to healthy dialogue is the degree of safety and belonging that people feel. If we start by gathering common outcomes and ideals it helps us feel more connected to one another. For example, you might begin by saying,  "I know each of us is feeling the collective anxiety of our culture. I also know we all care about one another and our country.  What are some additional things we all hope for?"
  4. Go first: As a leader, you can't expect others to go where you aren't willing. Begin by sharing your thoughts in a humble way and be sure to invite disagreement and the feelings and perspectives of others. You may have to intentionally read some opposite perspectives of your own or get a sense of the feelings of others before beginning. For example, while you might feel angry about an event someone else might feel sad, scared, or confused.
  5. Give assurance: As the leader, you have a great ability to set the tone and provide reassurance of safety. Invite an alternative perspective of someone you know. Thank a person for sharing even though their opinion differs. Remind throughout that the goal is dialogue and that healthy conversation is welcome. Finally, be ready and willing to use your authority to maintain safety and remind people of the ground rules that were set regarding not criticizing the person or blaming others.

I hope these are helpful! Our ability to build unity on the macro-level requires us to be able to succeed at the micro-level. This means our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces need to be spaces in which healthy dialogue can occur.

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