In these unprecedented times of COVID-19 and social unrest throughout the country, important conversations need to take priority in the workplace. Employees are overwhelmed, feeling the pressure from the failing economy, being afraid that they might lose their job, the dread of sickness by being around others, and the pressure of caring for family while simultaneously working from home. Adding to all of that, some employees are also dealing with family concerns, the tragic loss of friends and family, feeling isolated, and going through grief of the loss all these changes have brought to everyone.
In the same way that employees are dealing with this amount of stress, so are organizations. There is tremendous pressure on organizations to bring up conversations around DEI (Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion) that are sensitive and could lead to increased tensions between co-workers. The cold truth is that workplace conflict is on the rise.
When conflict and tension at work are high, productivity hits rock bottom. Not having an adequate framework or support from which to have DEI conversations among supervisors, managers and employees can add to the layers of tension that can lead to informal and formal grievances in the human resources (HR) and equal employment opportunity (EEO) department of any organization.
Organizations are in need of solutions that can facilitate more positive results from DEI conversations. They need solutions that allow employees to be open and honest with each other and feel heard and respected when offering their point of view.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a field that focuses on mechanisms of restorative practices and conflict prevention in a non-violent and healthy way. Harmonious dialogue is the key to breaking that vicious cycle of stress and tension to build trust. Through ADR, we can identify the restorative practices that can mend relationships and release grudges.
One of the best techniques that can be drawn from ADR is the practice of holding Dialogue Circles. This method of facilitating communication is not a new technique. Dialogue Circles date to before there was any legal systems in society and formal chains of command in organizations.
What are Dialogue Circles?
Dialogue Circles are structural facilitation process exercises. The practice consists of sitting everybody in a circle and allowing them to say their piece in a safe space where everybody can be heard. This also can be done online via video conferences by a well-trained ADR practitioner.
This is a technique that allows for open and transparent conversation communication between participants. In Dialogue Circles, all levels of the organization can participate — from the CEO to the summer interns.
DEI conversations need to happen in the workplace now more than ever. These conversations, when approached with the correct framing and process, allow space for awareness to grow in areas of implicit and explicit biases. They also shed light to insight on the systematic policies the organization needs to improve. This process nurtures an environment of inclusion and equity so that employees perform at their best. When everybody feels part of the conversation, and are contributing to ideas, it allows for the sharing of needed reforms in organizations.
Also, DEI conversations must be facilitated suitably and in a safe space. Otherwise, they could devolve into a mud-slinging contest that can lead to more conflict and accusations of discrimination. For Dialogue Circles to have a positive effect on the culture of your organization, you need to ensure that everybody feels included and that employees are free to speak their minds, albeit in a respectful manner.
By choosing the appropriate facilitator to lead DEI dialogues or training your managers or supervisor on how to conduct these talks among employees, it can significantly reduce the stress levels on your employees that otherwise could hijack employees’ productivity. Also, this kind of conversation can serve to pay a closer look at policy and structures that might be hindering the progress of the organization’s overall culture.
People from different backgrounds want to come together across racial and ethnic lines, but they don’t know how to do that in a way that won’t be offensive. Dialogue Circles are a technique that can spread awareness about people’s different experiences and can bring people together in a powerful, empathetic style. The field of ADR is one of those hidden gems that is a necessity to explore before any other leadership development is considered in organizations.