Post written by
President of MTI, a leadership and mindfulness training, coaching and consulting firm in Washington DC with federal and commercial clients.
While unconscious bias as diversity training is a hot topic these days, I believe there is something missing in traditional diversity options: emotional intelligence. From my perspective, the combination of both unconscious bias and emotional intelligence training is what is needed to move the needle toward more inclusive work environments.
Diversity training, including unconscious bias training, lays the foundation for people to begin paying attention to what they think and how they view differences. Most people carry some sort of bias, so I believe helping people understand that they need to be more conscious of it is a vital first step.
But once you are aware of the fact that you have a bias, what can you do about it? This is where emotional intelligence comes in. According to emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman, there are four competencies that comprise emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. When I look at these components, I see each of them as a cornerstone for how to enhance your inclusiveness in organizations. As a mindfulness coach myself, I’ve developed a few ways you can incorporate the four elements of emotional intelligence in your organization’s diversity efforts:
Understanding your strengths and weaknesses and knowing how you feel about differences in others — such as how someone else thinks, how they look or where they are from — is the beginning. Diversity training that teaches you how to become more self-aware can help uncover these perceptions and make you more conscious and self-aware of any bias you might be harboring.
To become more self-aware, I’ve found that it’s helpful to pay attention to how you react to others who are different than you, as well as those who are the same. Is there any difference? Then, ask yourself if you have any triggers specific to diversity issues that make you react in ways you normally wouldn’t. Once you become self-aware of any unconscious bias you might have, you can then find ways to adjust your thinking.
Once you understand how you might get triggered by another perspective, it’s time to work on another emotionally intelligent skill: self-management. Self-management is the ability to regulate how you react to situations. To manage your responses, pay attention to moments you feel triggered emotionally. Rather than reacting in anger or frustration, take three deep breaths. This can help you physically relax and react in a more productive way.
For example, if you’re stressed out by a looming deadline and need to delegate a few of your tasks, take a short walk to clear your head. Rather than giving an assignment to the same employee every time, turn your stress into an opportunity for development by delegating an assignment to a different team member, even if it might take more time to train them on it. This way, you’re giving more of your team a chance at success and turning a moment of stress into a moment of learning.
I believe self-management is a helpful way to give people who are different from you a chance. Each day as a leader, asses who you work with, and make a conscious choice to reach out to someone new and begin having conversations with them.
Empathy is a key component to enhancing inclusiveness in a work environment because it allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. From my perspective, showing empathy can build a sense of inclusiveness, which allows everyone to feel like they belong, regardless of their background. It is important for diversity because it allows us to understand the other and grow in awareness and relatedness to their point of view, thereby allowing us to grow inclusivity on our teams and in organizations as a whole.
You can build empathy by increasing your listening skills and beginning to understand other perspectives in earnest. Practice mindful listening by giving your full attention to someone else, rather than allowing your mind to wander during a conversation. As you do that, you can connect with more and more people who come from a variety of backgrounds. This is an essential skill for bringing a diverse group of people and mindsets together, as I believe it enhances our ability to build strong relationships with anyone.
4. Relationship Management
Relationship management looks at how we interact with others, such as our communications and conflict management and influence skills. As a past mentor of mine said, “If we only lead or coach people just like us, we will have a very small ability to influence.” As leaders, you need to be able to engage with different kinds of people through listening more intently to others, putting yourself in the position to interact with those who have different viewpoints than you and learning from them.
You can do this by soliciting feedback outside of your silos. Hire people from different backgrounds and perspectives, and conduct focus groups or surveys with customers. I’ve found all of these practices can help in broadening your perspective and teach you how to interact with different kinds of people, which leads to and enhanced return on investment, increased innovation and higher levels of team engagement and morale.
Overall the case for diversity is there, but I believe emotional intelligence is needed to really make it work.
Forbes, Jul 29, 2019