A common misconception when we talk about workplace diversity is to limit our thinking to race and ethnicity, when in fact, diversity encompasses cultural norms, religious practices, geographic location, age, disabilities, sexual orientation — the list goes on. Leading in our increasingly diverse global work environments can be challenging. How do you communicate in an inclusive way that unites and inspires everyone on your team without inadvertently alienating any group or individual?
Effective leadership communication starts by stepping outside of your own norms and considering how what you say will resonate across a wide range of perspectives. Take the time to think about the variety of viewpoints and backgrounds of your individual team members and how your message will be received. Seeing your message through the eyes of your team will broaden your own outlook and help team members feel valued for their skills, talents, and contributions, rather than excluded or overlooked for their differences.
Try not to get overwhelmed – you’re all on the same team working toward the same goal! You can communicate in a way that builds an inclusive culture, keeps your diverse team feeling connected, and keeps the company moving forward. Here are a few simple guidelines to get you started:
Be careful not to fall back on stereotypes in an attempt to relate to or understand your team. Stereotypes are often inaccurate and offensive. Instead, focus on the assets that each individual contributes to the company, as opposed to making generalizations about specific groups.
We’re not all the same – and that’s a good thing! Recognize the value that different perspectives bring to your team. Embracing and valuing our differences can improve employee engagement, teamwork, and the bottomline. Make a conscious effort to seek out, understand, and consider different views as you problem solve and get things done. Honor and respect cultural and religious holidays celebrated by team members. For example, avoid planning team meetings or sending important communications on these dates when you know large groups of people will be out of the office.
Listen and learn
Be open to hearing about how someone’s age, gender, race, sexuality, location, etc might be affecting their experience in your workplace. Having more knowledge of your team members backgrounds helps you understand not only how to communicate with them, but can also shed light on where they might have different priorities, motivating factors, and blind spots. For example, is your baby boomer having a challenge relating to a younger boss or coworkers? Are your team members in other regions repeatedly invited to team meetings scheduled in the middle of the night? Is the way you speak to a team of mostly men making female team members feel left out or uncomfortable? These are just a few examples of some of the questions you need to ask of yourself as a leader.
Individualize your approach
Learn what communication style and channels work best for different team members. Younger team members may prefer communicating over instant messenger (IM) programs or text instead of email and phone calls, while veteran team members may prefer face to face meetings. Find out what your team is most comfortable with and be flexible about using multiple communication channels.
Provide training and support
Provide training on company policies and expectations during team members’ onboarding process, and ensure that all employees understand the company’s commitment to diversity and the benefits of embracing a diverse workplace culture. Put it on your teams radar right away that valuing and respecting differences is not only a priority, but improves how teams work together and keeps the company moving forward.
Choose your words carefully
Avoid idioms, slang, acronyms, and industry jargon. These often don’t translate across cultures and even across different age groups. They can cause confusion and make people feel alienated. Be conscious of language barriers. Translate critical messages into languages commonly spoken within the organization and try to avoid words ending in -ing because they can be difficult to translate.
The more diverse your team is, the stronger it will be — as long as you’re practicing effective leadership communication. Embracing differences, and making sure your employees all feel seen, heard, and included will make your team happier, more cohesive, and more motivated to contribute.