Steps to Initiate Dialogue Across Differences

It seems that we are far more divided today than ever before. These divisions have potential to negatively impact our workplace environments. Politics, race, gender, sexual orientation and religion are some differences we struggle with. Not to mention difference in personality traits and leadership styles that can be frustrating at best and cause team discord and dysfunction at worst.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Conflicts can be resolved by taking small steps to find common ground. Biases, assumptions and even hatred can be replaced with empathy and understanding through relationship building. Dialogue has the power to bring us together even when it may seem impossible. Use these steps to lean into dialogue about differences with a healthy dose of courage and compassion in order to make diversity a differentiator for good to enrich your personal and professional lives.

  • Know that it is fine to ask someone about themselves. As long as you engaging out of curiosity and compassion and have good intentions to get to know someone better or better appreciate their life experience, it’s usually fine to ask someone a question to spark a conversation. Just be sure to inquire about the individual specifically versus asking anyone to speak on behalf of a community. “Asking people is not a bad thing. People don’t get offended. Personally, I’ve never been offended with anyone asking me a question. I do get offended when people form an opinion or a perception without actually asking me. This is about the simplest of things that individuals can do to create a more inclusive environment.” – Asif Sadiq, Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at The Telegraph.
  • Begin by being honest and vulnerable. Engage someone by first being honest as to why you are interested in learning about them or asking the question that is on your mind. This may mean admitting what you are not knowledge about or potential blind spots you are exploring or why learning about differences is important to you. Remember, we are all at different places on our DEI learning journey and no one is an expert so it is okay to be honest and vulnerable.
  • Use these fool-proof phrases:
  1. Begin your question with, “I’m curious to know…[how you identify yourself?” …how you feel about xyz?” …what’s your heritage?”]. Beginning your question this way allows you to ask what’s on your mind while being respectful and without casting judgement.
  2. Continue the conversation with, “Tell me more…”. This allows someone to share in whatever way is meaningful to them. You asked, now you are obligated to simply listen and learn. Do not feel obligated to respond. In fact, the most meaningful act in a conversation is to simply listen.
  3. End with, “Thanks for sharing”. Thank the person for being vulnerable and taking the time to engage. If appropriate, reciprocate by sharing something about yourself.
  • Be patient and understanding. Sometimes people aren’t ready or willing to engage. That’s OK. Respect people’s different boundaries, apologize if you need to, and then move on from the conversation.

Let's Connect

Beth Ridley is a former corporate executive turned organizational transformation consultant, speaker and author. Beth combines 25 years of global leadership and management consulting experience with expertise in diversity and inclusion and positive psychology to partner with leaders to transform workplace cultures to better achieve their vision and goals. Beth’s work is featured in national publications and she frequently delivers keynotes and workshops at events around the world. Beth lives with her husband and three children in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Share This Post


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top