4.3 Fear of conflict or difference
In the UK in particular, many of us try to avoid the awkwardness of conflict, perhaps even seeing it as unproductive, but handled the right way it can clear the air and enhance mutual understanding. This short video from Eyes Up Training outlines the problem:
The video raises important issues such as setting boundaries, dealing with emotions and keeping an open mind.
Ridley (2020) suggests three tips for a more positive way of dealing with diversity and inclusion related conflict. All are focused on communication:
Establish a process – be clear on expected behaviours and identify a point of contact for employees to consult when a conflict arises. Communicating the process clearly will reassure staff of the organisation’s commitment.
Speak up – staying silent suggests that you support the inappropriate or hurtful comment or action. While diversity-related conversations can be uncomfortable, not speaking up allows hurt feelings and misunderstandings to fester, which leads to employees feeling they don’t belong and damages the credibility of your efforts to foster a culture of inclusion.
Engage in respectful dialogue – the aim of speaking up is to understand and bridge differences. Don’t assume the other person intended harm. Phrases such as ‘I’m curious to know what you meant by your comment’ or ‘I know you meant that to be funny, but it was hurtful to me because…’ can be useful in encouraging the other person to share their perspective. The goal is not to resolve the conflict in a single conversation, but to leave the door open for further conversations – that’s when greater meaning and deeper relationship building occurs.
This short video from Heineken illustrates the importance of communication when conflict looks like a possibility:
In the next section you’ll explore why diversity and inclusion initiatives sometimes fail.