Each month, “The Balance Sheet” provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that’s important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.
Q. We have a very diverse workplace, and I sometimes correct employees when I see them demonstrating poor tolerance of coworkers’ differences. I am not an expert on tolerance and bias, so can you offer some language, tips, or “phrases” helpful in educating employees?
A. Education does help alter bias, but the bottom line is that employee behavior must conform to what is civil and supportive of your organization’s work goals. Let employees know that the goal of tolerance is a respectful workplace and that without it, the interests of the work organization are not served. When correcting employee behavior in the context of supervisory meetings, your goal should be to educate, not counsel or investigate the psychological influences of employee bias. Given that, the following can help your discussions be more effective:
- Look past differences of opinion, orientation, ethnic or racial backgrounds and instead focus on understanding a colleague’s views and perspective.
- Avoid the trap of tuning out simply because someone talks or looks different.
- Avoid labels. Monitor your speech patterns and thinking style to check whether you label others.
- If you disagree with someone’s views, react with curiosity rather than defensiveness. Ask at least one earnest, non-threatening question to dig for more information. Be willing to change your mind and withhold judgment to expand your frame of reference.
- Speak up when hurtful comments are overheard.
- Reject intolerance when you see it demonstrated.
Q. We employ an ethnically diverse mix of people. While there’s no evidence of racism here, I sense trouble brewing. Is BJC EAP able to promote tolerance or cross-cultural awareness?
A. There’s no single cure-all to create harmony in an ethnically diverse work environment, but BJC EAP can serve as a safe and effective outlet for individuals to express their work-related concerns or frustrations. Complaints of discrimination should be addressed through human resources or management. If employees feel resentment toward others, they can vent to the consultant and develop new ways to address interpersonal hostilities. For instance, they can learn strategies to improve how they collaborate in teams and look beyond their differences to achieve a greater good. At the same time, management can play a role in bringing a diverse workforce together. By setting an example of tolerance, fairness and mutual understanding, the organization’s managers can send a message for employees to follow their lead. It’s precisely when trouble is brewing that these leaders should speak out about the need for equality, empathy and shared goals.
Q. We have a diverse workforce, and there is tension among some groups of employees that I think is race-based. I dealt swiftly with a racially inappropriate remark recently. Should I have BJC EAP do diversity awareness training, or will this make things worse?
A. Contact BJC EAP to discuss your observations and the history of problems that are occurring within your work unit. There are many ways to approach diversity issues and inappropriate race-related remarks that surface between groups. Context and history are important. Not every problem requires a training or seminar solution. Sometimes the best intervention is a direct, zero-tolerance approach by management to address inappropriate behavior. BJC EAP can facilitate small, representative committees of employees who discuss options and select an approach that seems best for the whole group. This is a particularly powerful strategy that can produce a healing effect. Sometimes the best approach is a workshop on issues of respect, tolerance and treating others appropriately. This sends a broader message that covers other employees who feel disrespected. Hold employees with inappropriate behavior accountable, and act quickly to discourage anything less than a respectful workplace.