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Let's Talk About the I In JEDI

Let's talk about the I in JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion.) What is inclusion and how do we go about improving it in our workplace and our daily lives?

While this is a vast topic, and often the subject of multi-day training sessions, I would like to offer a first step:

You have to be brave enough to invite different types of people to the table, and then be willing to dig deep and have uncomfortable conversations at that table.

These are the opportunities in which we learn and stretch our horizons most. These are the conversations that may begin with you asking what you feel may be a “stupid question,” seeking to understand a culture, point of view or way of life that is foreign to your own.

A colleague once asked me,

"What do I call someone like you? Is it Latina, Hispanic or Spanish?"

Are you brave enough to ask a question like that? I was not offended. As a matter of fact, no one had ever really asked me that! I was glad she asked. It opened the door for not only clarifying that question for her, but even for myself! I had to research it to make sure I had the correct answer and I actually learned a few important things in that process, things I ended up including in my first TEDx Talk on the subject of DE&I, "Which Box Do I Check?"

In the workplace, having a difficult conversation involves asking the questions you may not like the answers to. A little, or a lot, of discomfort is sometimes what it takes to achieve growth. Just think about building a muscle.

So, if uncomfortable conversations lead to expansion, why do we avoid them at all costs?

Well, basically, FEAR:

· Fear of looking stupid

· Fear of offending

· Fear of having our own beliefs tested

· Fear we may not like what we hear

· Fear we may not know how to react or what to say

· Fear of bruising a relationship

· Fear of getting shunned

· Fear of getting fired

All of the above are valid fears. No one wants to get in the line of fire and yet we cannot rise above our own ignorance (and we are all ignorant about something or other) without asking deep and uncomfortable questions.

Many clients I work with ask me, “So how do we do that? What does it take to have an uncomfortable conversation?”

It takes:

1. Grace

2. Honest Interest

3. True Attention

4. Intention to learn something new, and

5. A child-like curiosity and wonder

That's right, I said "wonder." Do you know how a child's face lights up when they ask a question and learn something totally new, something that answers their question and beyond? That look of "Wow!" I love the curiosity of children. Everything is uncharted territory, something to know more about!

When do we lose that quality of wondrous questioning?

Perhaps when the adults or even our fellow playmates ridicule us for asking. Maybe it was that time the mean kid in class rolled her eyes and yelled out loud, "That's a STUPID question! YOU'RE STUPID!"

Let me assure you, even if someone rolls their eyes and yells, you can handle it. You can allow yourself to feel novice for just a moment if it means learning something new. In this case, the something new has to do with gaining a better understanding of people, ultimately increasing your personal growth and success.

It's like being new to the yoga studio. Sometimes you have to fall on your face a few times before you finally get the pose. Eventually you get it!

Ask questions with the intent of truly raising your understanding and your cultural intelligence.

Note that your questioning should not sound like a debate. A conversation like this is about communication, an interchange of ideas. It is not a debate, a way for you to prove your side is right.

What if you don't agree with some basic behavior or belief or paradigm that someone else has?

How do we make a safe space for uncomfortable conversations?

With that same grace and curiosity, you dig deeper and ask questions that at very least will get you to understand why they think as they do. You can always say:

"While I may not agree with that point of view, I understand where you are coming from, and I respect your right to have a different opinion."

If it is in the workplace, you can always bring in a facilitator or coach to work with the group and smooth these conversations along. We may have more experience in guiding the talks so that they remain productive.

Inclusivity begins with truly understanding who you are trying to include, their beliefs, likes, dislikes, challenges and customs, so that you don't disregard them, insult them, or worse, force upon them your biased policies, customs or beliefs. That is what inclusion is not. That's like inviting a vegetarian to your house for dinner and trying to force them to eat meat while snidely remarking:

"Well, there's nothing wrong with meat!" And, "You shouldn't be impolite and refuse my dinner. I am trying to include you!"

Who does that?

Why force a cultural, religious or regional practice on someone that does not practice as you do? The only answer to that is egocentricity and narcissism, the passionate belief that your way is the right and only way. Hasn't this been a continual cause of war down the ages? Isn’t it time we acted differently? More intelligently?

If you are seeking cooperation and expansion, you may want to break from your obsession with "being right" and instead ask yourself the question I ask my executive clients when coaching them on engaging their teams:

"Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be effective?"

The smart leaders always answer, "Effective."

To be effective in engaging teams, clients or just everyday people in your life, you have to dig deep, have uncomfortable conversations, be transparent and be willing to learn. Get out of your box. Get to know other people's stories. We are all individuals with unique backgrounds, life histories and our share of adversity.

Cooperation begins with true engagement. True engagement is the beginning of inclusion. Begin by asking deep and meaningful questions with the curiosity and openness of a child. The quality of your questions will determine the quality of your understanding, personal growth and success.


Mitch Savoie Hill, Certified Executive Coach, International TEDx Speaker, and DISC Certified Corporate Trainer, is the Founder and CEO of SavHill Consulting LLC.

With over 25 years of experience in Sales, Hospitality, Training and Leadership, she delivers engaging and energetic presentations for any company or group wanting to increase engagement and productivity. As a leadership coach and consultant, Mitch helps her clients clarify their vision, map out actionable strategies, and turn roadblocks into runways to success!

To find out more about Leadership Coaching or Corporate Training with Mitch,

Schedule a complimentary consultation here -

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