Difficult Workplace Conversations in Care

Author: Max Davies (Gender Identity, Gender Diversity and LGBTQ+ Expert)

Over the past few months, we have been working on developing our programmes to ensure that they have applicability to the workplace. Part of this involves linking up the training to the tasks that are undertaken following the training. Today, we have been working on a “Respond to Racism” programme. We are hoping that this programme provides the impetus to initiating those challenging conversations, and that learners draw on some of the practical approaches outlined here.

Racism comes in many forms, some forms rise from ignorance, and others steam from generational socilisation about people of colour which are dangerous to many people. Language is a tool in which we communicate, which comes in many different forms; words can have very different meanings depending on who you’re talking to, how things are said and the context in which the word is used. Inviting personnel to have conversations about language can be a starting point on making sure each member has their voice heard. Positive language can help change and build positive mindsets. This can lessen conflict and reduce tension. A workplace that values people benefits from stronger communication. A person does not want to feel like they are walking on eggshells with their team. Understanding the appropriateness of terminology to use regarding race clarifies our implicit bias and even covert bias by drawing attention to the potentially harmful things that could result in the experiences of microaggression by BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) and/or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) individuals on a daily basis.

Here are a few activities in which you, as an organisational leader, could do to encourage workplace conversations:

Workplace mentoring – a way of supporting multiple members of your team through the engagement of others. They are educational opportunities for personnel to share experiences, skills, and knowledge of not only work based practices but also one’s personal life and lived experience.

Reverse mentoring – This is usually a reverse hierarchical approach where a member of the board is the mentee of a member in an “early career” position. This is particularly helpful when following the experience of a person of colour who may be finding it difficult to socially mobilise within a company. By following through their lived experience, the member of the board will see what may be impacting on their success and movement within the company to be able to make changes.

Reciprocal (two-way) mentoring – This idea is where both parties become the mentor and mentee in the workplace. Engaging in specific conversations about each other’s skills, knowledge, and experiences. This is a shared process in which both can learn and develop from another member.

Feedback – Anonymous surveys and research reports. Sending out a research report through the workplace will allow your company to engage in anonymous conversations about specific topics. This could be as simple as the words and terminology people use (or may wish others to use), to how people feel valued within the workplace.

Facilitate in-house groups – In house groups can help and support minority groups to be seen, valued and heard. These groups can help facilitate discussions where a person can express themselves in a safe environment. This can be a formal morning meeting to societies and groups for specific minorities. These groups can produce and incorporate the previous suggestions.

Formal meetings/supervisions – A time to ask some employees specifically about their experience within the workplace and if they have any personal concerns that may impact their work. This should be a one–to–one process; it’s worth noting some people may feel put on the spot, and may not feel safe to speak to the other member of the team, or confident enough to do so.

Self-awareness is about consciously looking at the way we/people think, behave, or feel etc. It’s about:

  • Paying attention to what it is that really bothers people about themselves or someone else.
  • Identifying what is emotionally charging them in a situation.
  • Assessing how people give and receive feedback.
  • Making time to understand gaps in knowledge where there could be further reading or training.
  • Personnel can take time to reflect through open discussion, journaling or even asking for feedback on a situation.
  • Pick apart what happened and what we would have liked to have happened, and what could we have done better. It is the who, how, why, what and when.

Let’s be clear. These do not resolve an organisation from difficult conversations. Overt, covert and implicit bias can still happen in the workplace, but this is just a starting point. Becoming an ally and supporter of the BAME community is a lifetime process. Having difficult conversations will happen.

Here are 7 suggestions on how you can manage difficult interactions:

  1. Be clear about your objective and what it is you want to say. Already having an outline will make sure you are prepared to get your point(s) across quickly and effectively.
  2. Have notes and a script so you can keep on topic. This will make sure you do not not move onto unnecessary conversations and that the problems most important to you are heard first and foremost.
  3. Say your side of the story, allow them to say theirs – provide opportunity for discussion. Providing opportunity for discussion can allow all personnel to be heard and both members to listen to justifications and reasoning
  4. Be mindful, open, and honest. Just because things don’t happen to you does not mean it doesn’t happen to someone else. Everyone’s experience in life is personal.
  5. Have a procedure for managing emotions – deploy resolution skills. Work together to come to a resolution so that all parties are leaving the conversation knowing that the company is valuing them as a person.
  6. Company policies, procedures or leaders’ positions on a particular topic should highlight what they would do in a situation of racism. If someone is being racist, and you have a policy in place for racism, make sure you follow this through. Action speaks louder than words. If you tell someone you will do something, do it, and this will lessen conflict. If company policy represents your actions, this should move a lot more smoothly if personnel have been constantly made aware of the stance/policies of the company.
  7. Have an external note taker or person present throughout such conversations. Having an external member take notes or be present, with a non-bias point of view of the personnel in question could help one to negotiate the situation and manage emotions.

Email us at info@3spirituk.com to find out more about our “Respond to Racism” and “Constructive Conversations” training programmes. You can also purchase our “Difficult Conversations Tool” for £15 via our tool/infographic shop.

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