Less comfortable dialogues are essential to understanding and being respectful of one another
I have been reflecting on some work I did with a large and newly formed team. Some conversations arose about difference, belonging, equality and other similar topics.
On a couple of occasions during the session, there were some participants who disagreed over the language we were using. Some shared that they found words like ‘difference’ and ‘diversity’ alienating; they explained that, for them, language like this implies separation and distance. Someone else did not like the word ‘belonging’; they felt that, in a work context, this concept made them feel like the organisation had ownership over them. They did not feel empowered or included.
During these discussions, I found myself striving for harmony, a sense of agreement and a single view on language. However, everyone had their own personal takes on the language in question – what one person liked to use, another felt uncomfortable with. People were respectfully challenging me and each other, being curious in their enquiries and open in their interactions.
As the conversations unfolded, I realised that these less comfortable dialogues are essential to understanding and being respectful of one another. Participants built vulnerability-based trust and created a psychologically safe environment together.
I learnt that there are complex reasons behind the thoughts and feelings we have about the language we use. Keeping these thoughts to ourselves can make it is easy for people to misconstrue each other or make unhelpful assumptions. On the other hand, if we mindfully talk about these thoughts and feel safe to openly discuss, challenge and share alternative views without undermining others, we can learn so much about ourselves and the other people in the room. This helps us all grow and develop as humans.
Even if it feels uncomfortable or unnatural at first, having the conversation is so much healthier than the risk of generating assumptions from keeping our feelings to ourselves.
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