The benefits of having a diverse workforce – in age, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and gender – are plentiful. A diverse team brings different opinions and perspectives, sparking greater creativity, developing ideas, and challenging stagnant processes which could be holding your business back.
As a manager, a key part of your role is to help all of your team members flourish and feel supported in their professional development. However it can sometimes feel challenging, particularly when you can’t relate to their issues and experiences.
It’s therefore incredibly important to spend time learning about each team member and understanding what helps them to thrive and what barriers might be hindering their growth.
Whether it’s to do with their religion, personal circumstances, health, or culture, you should take the time to understand what your team needs to feel supported and motivated at work and then set about making your workplace somewhere where everyone feels supported.
Start having these conversations by using coaching
The term “coaching” is being used more frequently in the workplace these days. At its core, coaching is about helping someone achieve their goals by asking questions to help them come up with their own solutions. Used in a workplace setting, coaching can be an excellent way to navigate conversations which might have otherwise felt awkward or difficult.
I first experienced the power of coaching during a period of burnout. Having a manager who really took the time to listen and help me explore was transformational, and ultimately inspired me to build COACHLAB, a tool built to give everyone access to the power of good questions and coaching.
From a DEI perspective, coaching reminds us that we don’t have to have all the answers. It’s not our responsibility to come up with the solutions on our own, but it is our responsibility as managers to make the time to listen, and to help our teams feel supported and included.
Here are some dos and don’ts around coaching that will help you have more meaningful conversations with your teams.
Do dedicate time for regular 1:1 catch ups
During this period of uncertainty, your team members are likely to have a lot on their mind. Proactively reaching out to book dedicated time for them to share their concerns will go a long way in building trust and creating a more supportive environment.
These sessions can be a great opportunity for you to learn more about your team members and to see things from their perspectives. Remember to keep an open mind and be curious as you might learn a few things yourself from the conversation.
Don’t try and solve the problem for them
As a manager, it can often feel like you have to have all the answers, but in most situations, people just want to be heard.
Research shows that people respond better to solutions that they come up with themselves, rather than solutions suggested by other people. This can be especially pertinent when solutions are suggested by people who have not shared the same experiences or fully understand the situation.
Managers need to remember that they don’t always need to have the answer to difficult topics, they just need to create the space for these conversations to be had without judgement. Take the following analogy from Brene Brown: “I am a traveller, not a mapmaker. I am going down this path the same as you and with you.”
Do ask open questions to explore the situation
Coaching teaches us that there’s a lot of power in the questions you ask. By asking questions, you demonstrate to your team members that you care and value their perspectives. It also gives you more insights into what’s going on for your teams. Remember to avoid questions that warrant ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers as these can close off conversations rather than open them up, and above all listen.
Here are some questions to try out in your next one to one meetings:
- What concerns or challenges are you currently facing?
- How have you tried to solve these so far?
- What could we or the organisation do to better support you with this?
Don’t jump to conclusions
No two people are the same, so you also can’t assume everyone has the same worries. Often by making assumptions, you can do more harm than good, particularly from a psychological safety perspective.
Therefore ask questions to make sure you’re understanding the situation correctly.
- Can I clarify something? What did you mean when you said this?
- Do you mind if I recap this just to make sure I’m understanding the situation correctly?
With so much going on right now in the world, it’s never been more important to really understand and support our teams to help them perform at their best. And despite the potential discomfort of these conversations, it can really make an enormous difference. So book those one-to-ones and start asking some questions to learn more about your teams and foster more inclusive environments.
By Wei-Ying Chen, Founder, COACHLAB.