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Navigating Conflict around Diversity and Inclusion

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

We're talking about a pretty hot topic on the podcast this week- diversity and inclusion.

This topic very often leads to conflict, brings up different emotions and biases, and can even be hard to be clear in exactly what it means.

We truly believe that diversity and inclusion will not ever happen unless we do better with conflict. So today we’re sharing some ways we can begin heading that direction and show the beauty of conflict, even when it's around a hotly debated topic.

We’re sharing some unconscious biases we have each realized we have, some of the ways we learn to check into our own stories and biases so we can get to a real human connection, and a lot more.

We hope you will join us in our goal of making diversity and inclusion a reality by embracing the beauty of conflict it brings up and learning more about how we can all be a part of this together.

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Full Transcript:

CrisMarie: So today we're going to talk about inclusion and diversity, which is a pretty hot topic these days in corporate America. Would you agree Susan?

Susan: Yes. I think you know it brings up a lot of potential conflict. It brings up a lot of different sides of how this goes. And even in trying to define it and give it a clear and distinct definition, that's not easy to do.

CrisMarie: Yes. And well the one thing, there's been a lot of research. Several years ago, McKinsey and Company did research that showed that diversity at the executive level makes for better bottom line results, whether that's gender, racial, all sorts of different diversity.

It actually leads to financial benefit, which is why I think it's got the attention of Corporate America because it does have a bottom line results. And it's this sense of one definition of inclusion. Diversity is a way of getting to inclusion, which is creating an experience for others that makes them feel valued, respected, and that they feel like they belong or they're worthy and they matter. That's really the inclusion definition and often diversity is a way of getting people to inclusion. I know you want to say something.

Susan: I appreciate both the mention of the broader definition and the research. One definition of this that I have heard more recently that I thought was really quite rich and says a lot is the idea that, diversity is the invitation to the party and inclusion is when you get asked to dance.

And I think that they are different. They're not the same thing. You know, I think in Corporate America today, we're trying to say, diversity, let's get the numbers, invite people to the table, let's make sure we have women, we have different races, we have different nationalities. So maybe then it becomes a statistic. Something like, oh we made our quota. However, if you're actually just going to invite people to the party but they actually don't get to dance or they're not really able to dance because no one really recognizes that they're not getting to dance, then you have a pretty serious problem. Then diversity without inclusion is not very helpful.

CrisMarie: Right. And you know, we all have prejudice.

We talk about the personal filter and we talk about it in both our Beauty of Conflict books, one for couples, one for business. But in Check Out Your Story, what happens is incoming information comes in and it processes through a personal filter. We all have these personal filters. They're made up of our significant emotional events, which include our gender, where we lived, our family of origin, all the experiences that have had loud impacts on us. And in this filter we delete, distort, and generalize information. So I think you had a real good example of a blue eyed person based on your history. What happened for you?

Susan: Well in my history, there was a very charismatic person in my life who happened to have blue eyes and in spite of the charisma of the guy and the way he could tell a good story, he was also someone who did some pretty horrific things. And as a result of those things, I actually have had a real aversion to people with blue eyes.

CrisMarie: So this is CrisMarie, and I have blue eyes. So she's certainly gotten over it. But at the time, a long time ago, you didn't even realize you hadn't.

Susan: No, I didn't know that was even going on. And that's just a simple example of where if I hadn't learned, it would play havoc, because I would literally disregard people who had blue eyes.

CrisMarie: And so I grew up with an Alpha Male, my dad. It's very clear that I deal with Alpha men differently. I don't even know that I'm doing it. It's automatic. So there's these things where we've had, whether they're traumatic or loud or impactful experiences when we were young that influence how we show up.

So this, it creates what's called in the nomenclature, unconscious bias. It's things that we don't even recognize. We're deleting somebody. We may interrupt somebody. We may assume they're not as important as we are. There's all sorts of things we do. They're called microaggressions, where we behave in ways that we're not aware of how excluding we're being.

Susan: And the difficulty about even talking about this is that the other word that comes up in any of this discussion is the word privilege. And what happens is some people have, because of culture, because of the way our society has been set up, have lived with more privilege than others. And that word alone can cause all sorts of ramifications when it gets brought up. And really privilege has a lot to do with that unconscious bias, that personal filter that you carry.

And it's very tricky to have these conversations. And what we try to do in our cultures, in organizations and businesses, is to make rules, laws, and politically correct ways of communicating to protect people who, quite frankly, have been mistreated and discriminated against.

And yet in our attempt to make it safe and make it politically correct, we haven't really served the purpose of having the right conversation and getting into what is a particularly conflictual issue. And it becomes very rigid and tight, and people don't communicate with each other. I learned to say the right thing or what I'm supposed to say and then the conversation doesn't happen.

CrisMarie: I think that's so true, Susan. If you've been listening to us, we believe conflict is when people can show up as their whole self, say what's really true for them, whatever we're talking about, and then have that discussion and hang in for each other.

And if I'm trying to think... well, wait a minute, I might not say the right thing. I want to say something, but then I'm filtering. I'm going to say it the wrong way. Well what's happened to my idea is that it’s gone out the window because I'm so worried I'm going to offend somebody. So we're not saying no, be sensitive. That's not the message, but be aware of how rigid you are. If we’ve got to follow all these rules, we don't think that's the solution either.

We do have a middle way that we think is valuable, which is learning how to check out your stories and interrupt what's happening and find out if what’s going on was your intention.

And I think you have a story around this, Susan from when you were working.

Susan: Well Cris, I was thinking about when I was working up in Canada. For a number of years I worked in the Aboriginal Native American communities and at that particular time I was often the white woman in the room.

And when I first went into one particular area where I was working, I was trying really hard to say the right thing, do the right thing. And there was a woman who was the shaman of that particular community. She was the elder, she was the wise woman who had a politically high status in her community. And she actually dragged me into the bathroom one day and said in her very kind, considerate, although very direct way, “I'm going to tell you this really bluntly, don't try to be one of us, and don't try to do this right.” She said “You keep trying to. I think you've heard or someone told you that we don't like eye contact or we need to go at our own timeframe. I don't know all the rules you've made up about native people or that someone has told you not to cross the line, but I'm going to sit here and tell you right now, stop that. You show up as you and be curious about the impact you have.”

And this goes to another one of my favorite quotes: “it's not what you do, it's what you do next.” And she was basically telling me, you're going to make mistakes because you are not one of us. However, that's not the problem. The problem is you're trying to do it right and you are lousy. So quit trying to do it right and notice when you make a mistake and pay attention and you can be who you are because that's okay. Don't try to be us. That really is offensive to me.

CrisMarie: So being aware, and sensitive to the impacts. If you see somebody react a certain way, slow down and check that out: something just happened. It is something I did.

Susan: Yeah. And just to bring that home a little further, it wasn't too long down the road in the same situation where I was leading a large group of people. Now this had both Native American people in it as well as a community leaders from other parts of Canada.

CrisMarie: Caucasian?

Susan: Yes. A number of different things.

We were doing a lot of different types of work with people. Some on an individual basis. I would work with somebody around some particular issues coming up for them. And there was one woman in the room who was a very high profile leader of the Native American community. And she had come to this program and she wanted to do some personal work around a very hot topic in Canada, which had to do with residential schools, which has to do with the whole issue of the Aboriginal culture being taken out of their communities.

CrisMarie: A lot of abuses happened.

Susan: Yes. And I wanted to be able to support her in that.

It was interesting because she had brought along with her to this particular session, a couple of people from her community who were like her watch dogs. Before we were going to do some work with her that afternoon, two of her people came up to me and were like, we need to talk. And they proceeded to tell me all the things I could say and couldn't say, “Whatever you do don’t use this word and don't do this and don't do that.” And by the time I had this conversation, I was so rattled. I went into the session and she came forward asking for some time and I just looked at her like, I can't do it. I can't work with you. And I said, I feel horrible.

You know, I could tell that was one of those times when I thought back like, look at what I've just said. She looks very offended. I said, it may not be what you think it is. Then I told her that I feel very vulnerable because I'm going to make a mistake. I am going to put my foot in my mouth. I just got a whole lesson about what to say and not say. And now I'm so afraid of saying the wrong thing that I don't know how to talk to you. And we went out and we sat in the center of the circle and we had this conversation. It was very touching and she told me why it was such a big deal when she heard a couple of these words.

And she actually got really mad at me about why the hell this happened and why I hadn’t learned this by now. I mean we had some really real conversations. Not like soft, nice, polite conversation, but it was a real conversation. That moved me. I was like, “I'm ready to do the work with you now, whatever you want to do.” She said, “I think we just did it.”

Susan: It was very powerful. And you know, even for the two people who were so concerned, they said, “we had no idea the impact we were having on you by trying to support you and having this go well.” So often in our desire to make it safe, to make it comfortable, to make it okay, we actually whittle away and don't have the conversation.

CrisMarie: Well, we miss the human connection.

Susan: Yeah! The vulnerability in it.

CrisMarie: Because I'm touched just hearing that story. That you were actually able to reach each other and actually even know why those words were triggers for her. But it's not about following the rules, but having the dialogue and making the connection.

Susan: I wasn’t going to spend a lot of time on this, but I do think it comes down to that it's not what you say, it's what you do next. You know, it's not what you do. It's what you do next. Because we cannot always protect each other from the words that we say. We will make mistakes. We will do things that are offensive to people and step on toes. And hopefully instead of being told we can't ever do that, it's wrong, it's inappropriate, someone will have a conversation with us to help us understand how we made mistakes. That's the only way we're ever going to get through this. But that is incredibly awkward and uncomfortable.

CrisMarie: Well I think that's the key, That when we teach a model, Check Out Your Story, it is about interrupting and saying, “Hey, I want to check something out. You know, was it your intention when you said this to insult me? I want to find out because it's insulting over here.

But that may not have been what you intended.”

A lot of times in that scenario people don't want to. You have to build a culture where you can start doing that because otherwise you're going to have to have the meeting after the meeting and say, you know, when you said this, I think it offended Mary and you better go clean it up.

Versus if you can start to build a culture where in the meeting Mary could speak up or I could speak up as a peer of Mary's if I recognize something was going on and say, “Hey, Ted, you just said this. My story is you were inadvertently insulting Mary. I want to check it out. Mary, did that happen for you? And Ted, was that your intention?”

There's a lot of ways that you can do this, but takes time to build the culture of creating real conversations rather than rule following. And I know when you start, you might have to have rules to make it safe until you build this because when somebody who has a lot of privilege is confronted, typically the white male has the most, they feel quite uncomfortable and awkward. And so we want to say it's going to feel that way when people are checking out their stories or asking, is that your intention?

Because they're hitting your blind spot. They're pulling something out of your unconscious bias that you thought was nothing. And they're saying, hey, it matters to me over here. That doesn't mean it's wrong or right. Just over here, it lands a different way than what you intended. Does that make sense?

Susan: Yeah. You know, it's interesting. I can think of recently we were in another situation with a team and you know, this was something that threw me off completely. I had no idea. There were people of many nationalities in the room. One woman was referenced something, and she said “this is one of those I hear the angels sing moments.” I knew exactly what she was talking about. I'm not particularly of any religious background, but I've lived in America long enough. But I had all sorts of assumptions. You see the biases are coming out even as I'm talking about it.

And there was one gentleman there and I could tell he was like “what did you just say?” And at first I thought he was really upset. And then he finally said, “I didn't understand. What does that mean?” I think she had actually said it a couple of other times, at least one more time. And then I thought, of course he had no reference for what “I hear the angels” means. It’s not part of his religious contexts. He said “I actually had no clue of what that combination of words meant.” And it was just one of those things that can sometimes be super sensitive. Things in our culture right now around race and around some gender issues that are highly sensitive, and sometimes it's so unconscious, we have no idea that we're doing it.

CrisMarie: I love that example that you just gave of when he said, “I don't understand what you mean by when the angels sing” because he wasn't actually taking an offense, so it was easier for him to ask. I think when somebody says something and I'm like, oh my God, I take offense, it's really big on my screen. So it's harder for me to come forward and check it out and say something. And the more that I've done that, the more power I gain. When I don't do that, I shrink in my power. And I was thinking about this idea of inclusion. I grew up around the dinner table with my Army Colonel dad. And every time he asked, “How was your day?” he was looking for an executive report on my day.

And so I quickly learned not to bring me forward, but to frame whatever I had to say in a way that he could hear it. And I felt like it wasn't okay to be me at that dinner table. This is my context. I started to become a people pleaser, thinking, okay, what do I need? Who do I need to be for you to be okay? Who do I need to be on this executive team? Who do I need to be? And I was many different people because I felt so excluded that I was just sure people were not going to accept me for me.

I would even say even when we started working for corporate America, I wasn't going to share that we were in relationships, you had one dog and I had another, in order to pass.

And we had the luxury of passing. Some people cannot. But those are all things where we hide parts of ourselves, hoping to be included. And I have to say this Brene Brown quote, we just watched the Call to Courage, which we've mentioned in a couple of episodes because it was so powerful. It’s her Netflix special.

She said, “the opposite of belonging isn't ostracization, being ostracized, it's actually fitting in.” And I think so many of us in our jobs, with our friends, wherever it is, we try to fit in, hoping we'll be included. And that's not really what's going on because who are they including? Not our whole selves. We're framing who we are, and I'm not saying you have to be your whole self. Well, I do think the more you can bring of you to all these different situations, the more energy you're going to have and the more positive of an impact you're going to have on problem solving and different discussions.

Susan: You did mention something in passing that I just want to come back to it. Because you said, “we can hide.” And it's true. We, as a two white women who dress the way we do, however we look, we're not people who couldn’t necessarily hide. I've actually never thought of myself as a person of privilege, but now that I'm a gray haired, white woman living in Montana, I fit the category. And so, you know, I realized that with that comes responsibility because I have to recognize it and know that some people really can't hide. You know it is going to be a much more painful process for them. And sometimes when those people are coming to the table to be included, you may be dealing with their rage.

CrisMarie: Yes, yes!

Susan: And just another little, quick story about me. It was one of the worst periods in my life, really it was two weeks. That was the worst of it. It was when I was in high school and I was the only white person in my black high school. And for me that was not a horrible thing. I found my way through sports and various other things to be who I was. It was actually a way I could show up more fully. Because anything weird or awkward about me, I just said all white people are like that. And it really worked well to keep a lot of odd things about me hidden.

One of the those challenging times in my life was when the show Roots came on. I'm showing my age. I mean, first off, I hated myself. I was gone. There's no way I couldn't be racist, I must be somewhere back there.

CrisMarie: We all are.

Susan: We all are. And then the worst part was, I would come to school the next day and be slammed against the lockers, beaten up. I was thrown into a locker one time. It was a bad two weeks. And it was overtly directed at me. Like I knew that the people around me were hating me right then. And the sad part was I was hating me too. And you know, the thing that I walked away from that with was that I can't hate myself.

I have to find a way to get through this and own my whiteness even though I may not always like it. And the second thing I realized was that I understood their anger and rage. And if there was a way for me to give an open space for someone to express that, I wanted to. But I also realized that the only way that could ever happen is if I was willing to embrace who I was. All my own biases, my own prejudices, and to know that they were going to keep coming up. They weren't just going to go away, and I wasn't going to suddenly be okay.

CrisMarie: And all the people of color in your school, they had to live all their lives like you lived your two weeks.

Susan: I was like, wow, I've gotten two weeks. So I really do get it. I want to make it clear, whether it's around race, whether it's around a religious situation, whether it's around sexuality, some of these issues where people have had long and enduring situations where they have not been heard, seen, maybe even been killed or harmed. They're going to come to the table with some rage. It's not gonna look pretty, and they have every reason to come to the table with that rage.

CrisMarie: When I coach women, some of the women I coach say, “Oh, I'm not angry.” And I'm like, oh my gosh, how can you live in this patriarchal culture and not be angry? We are all angry. And then you add layers of gender or ethnicity, immigrants on top of that. And it is hard not to be angry.

And so for people that have dealt with that oppression and rejection and rage directed at them just for who they are, it makes perfect sense that they have a lot of energy.

Susan: And we have to realize that when someone who has had privilege has it taken away, that is also painful and they are angry, hurt, upset, and have no idea how to deal with that either. So I think of right now, we're dealing with a big thing in our culture around the Me Too movement and various things that have come out about male, white privilege and where that comes from. And every once in a while, I kind of want to do the thing that Shaman did. I want to take some of these white men into a bathroom and say, “get your act together.”

But I also get that in some situations they are angry because they'd never dealt with this. They are in a different situation.

CrisMarie: They were not taught well growing up. And it's hard not to get in touch with the rage having been abused. But I also recognize that these current men may or may not be my abuser. How can I help educate them and hold for their righteous indignation when they have to get called out.

Susan: It’s a tricky situation.

CrisMarie: All of us will inadvertently exclude people. It's learning and having the conversation, not making them right or wrong, but being more sensitive and being able to hear, “I get that what I just said didn't work.”

Susan: And what can I do now? There's a big political structure to know this and deep down underneath it, it's also very personal. Sometimes the only path we have is to sit across from somebody, eyeball to eyeball, because no matter what gender, race, or whatever, we both have some heartbeats in there, and that is our common ground. And if we can somehow get there and be willing to witness and appreciate somebody else's pain, rage, and somehow cross that bridge, we have a chance. That would be diversity and inclusion and not anything less than that.

CrisMarie: And it is. I mean, and I also recognize it. We just saw The Most Difficult Year. It's a movie about transgender issues in the state of Washington, in Seattle. And people do have to fight the political fight to get to just same sex marriage. There were all these equal rights movement in the 60s.

There has to be political warriors that create that space. I think his name is Aiden, the gentlemen who educates on transgender issues in Seattle or Sonoma. There were a lot of hot tempers in one part of this documentary and he said, “you know, I can hate those people but that will darken my soul and deep down, I know those are good people. They haven't had to deal with this issue. It hasn't touched their lives until now and in a more personal way” he says, “but I hold that they are good people.” So we can go to hate and rage and make people wrong and we can also keep coming back to what you said in the beginning. Can I love myself and make room and be curious and interested in another.

Susan: It's interesting you just brought up something that I think it's worth mentioning. You know, we can go to hate and rage. The thing about hate and rage is there's a tremendous amount of energy in both of them. What is even more frightening is that for a long time, and this is why I think this is so hard for the male privilege, white male privilege, is that was a culture. I'm in with the white privileged people that could go to indifference, almost like these people didn't even exist. That indifference is actually way worse than when hate and rage is out on the table. But indifference is just is kind of like Bernays Brown thing. The comment about fitting in. Once you can get to fitting in, you can become indifferent, you can become indifferent to people

CrisMarie: Or you can become invisible if you fit in, so people would become indifferent to you. Wow, that's interesting.

Susan: I don't like the level of hate and rage that is surfacing, especially when it comes to nationalism and things like that that are coming up. But there's another part of me that's like, that's been under the table a hell of a long time. It was indifference before, it is no longer indifference. And yes, I feel a little vulnerable even saying this because I'm not saying that's good. I'm just saying there's energy in it now and now's the time for the conversation. And this is not going to be a conversation that's going to be clean and easy and polite. It's going to get messy and can we hold for each other.

CrisMarie: And that's the work we do in companies. To help people learn the skills so they can wake up and recognize, wow, I had no idea that was so exclusive. And also to build a culture where people can check out their stories and have people become aware. Have us become aware of each other, become aware of where we are bumping into another person and may not be aware of it. So when this comes up in couples as well, because we have so many blinders on and so do they, to let somebody know.

Susan: It is actually one of the things that sort of interesting for us working with couples because I would say 95% of the couples we work with are actually heterosexual couples. And when we show up in the room to lead programs maybe there's 12 other couples in the room and they're all male, female, and there's us. There's that moment where it's like, what? How can you guys help?

CrisMarie: How can two women help us in a couples session?

Susan: Then there's the moment at the end of the session where it's like, wow, I could not use, she's a woman, I'm a man as an excuse anymore because you two…

CrisMarie: “I relate to you on this. I relate to her on that.” Again, it drops down to the human level versus the male-female piece or you're different than me. Because underneath we are all human and when we connect at that deeper level, that's what breakdown breaks down those barriers.

Susan: Yeah. Well this has been rich.

CrisMarie: I know and I mean it's a tender topic for us to actually do a podcast on and we think it's an important topic. Just recognize that we are all excluding at times because of our unconscious bias and that we all have tools that help each of us become more aware of our unconscious bias and build bridges as opposed to walls.

Susan: I do believe that diversity and inclusion will not ever happen unless we do better with conflict.

CrisMarie: That is true.

Susan: So I hope we can find the beauty in conflict because I think that's the only way we're really going to get to a point of being diverse and inclusive.

CrisMarie: With that, take care.

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn.

Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It!

Pre-order their new book The Beauty of Conflict for Couples: Igniting Passion, Intimacy, and Connection in Your Relationship.

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