Women in conversation

Facilitating Inclusive Conversations

Women in conversation

We all know exactly how it feels to be excluded. If we are to avoid making people feel like this we have so many challenges to overcome; some are seen, others unseen – we lift the lid on this important topic.

What do we want to be better at:

  • building our knowledge base
  • consider how to develop tools/strategies for more inclusivity
  • creating a more inclusive working environment
  • encouraging participation for all my team
  • ensuring everyones view is heard and respected – not just the ones who shout loudest
  • reflecting on whether I am really inclusive in my communication and actions


“the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalised, such as those having physical or mental disabilities or belonging to other minority groups.”


“the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.”

“Diversity is being asked to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Verna Myers – American Activist

Listening + Vulnerability = Trust


How much attention do we really give to listening to the other person in our conversations? If we are thinking about what we want to say next then we are not listening to anyone other than ourselves

Further recommended reading with Tamsin HartleyThe Listening Space


How vulnerable are we prepared to be? What difficult questions might we have? Can we start from the point of saying “I really don’t know?” When is it right to be vulnerable, and when is it not?

Check out what the world authority on vulnerability Brene Brown in her TED talk


Inclusivity without Trust?  – it is at the basis of all relationships, it can take years to build and seconds to destroy

Four Inclusivity Essentials

Intentions, Impact & Blame

Intentions: We might have mixed intentions, no intentions or at least none against us, sometimes good intentions that nonetheless end up hurting us. Good intentions can still produce bad impact. We assume we know the intentions of others when we don’t, worse still when we are unsure about someone’s intentions, we too often decide they are bad.

Because Intentions are invisible we assume them from other peoples’ behaviour; –especially if a person comes from a minority group or a group that we don’t belong to. Stereotyping or making inappropriate assumptions is likely to occur when an individual has a ‘solo’ or ‘near solo’ status, that is when they are the only visible minority person (whether it be skin colour, age, gender or disability) amongst an otherwise majority group – for instance being an only woman among male colleagues. Specifically, within a work context, stereotyping is more likely when a member of a minority group assumes a role considered to be non-traditional – male nurses, female board members and so on.

Blame:  Who is to blame for this mess? Talking about fault is similar to talking about truth it produces disagreement, denial and very little learning.

It evokes fears of punishment and insists on an either/or answer.

Nobody wants to be blamed , especially unfairly and energy ends up going into defending ourselves. Its true that in most cases in what happened is the result of what all parties did, or failed to do. When we blame, we get distracted from exploring what went wrong. We miss a trick because if we instead –  focus on the contribution of each party we can start to learn about the real causes of the problem, where we can work on correcting them.

Feelings: are at the heart of any situation. Feelings are usually complex. In this case many people like to avoid discussing feelings. There can be a danger that with this reasoning inclusive conversations do not just involve feelings, they are the very core of the conversation. Engaging in an inclusive conversation without talking about feelings is like staging an opera without the music. You get the plot but miss the point. The other point of view might suggest that it is inappropriate to talk about feelings in some circumstances; as it might start to say more about you than it does them, highlighting the issue of being less inclusive

Identity: how we reflect on our identities in a conversation maybe he most subtle but the most challenging. It looks in ward and becomes how we regard who we are, and how we see ourselves. How does it affect my self-esteem, my self image, my sense of who I am in the world? What self-doubts might I be having? In short, before during and after a conversation this is about what am I saying to myself about me?


To have biases is to be human. The society we grow up in influences our biases. You might not want to confront them, and you may not agree with them, but they’re most likely present. Few people — if any — grow up without absorbing some societal prejudices. Identifying bias in yourself doesn’t make you a bad person. Instead, it serves as a reminder of how pervasive social conditioning can be.

Types of Unconscious Bias

Affinity bias occurs when you unconsciously prefer someone because they remind you of yourself.

Ageism in the workplace is the tendency to have negative feelings about another person based on their age

Attribution bias involves the idea that achievements result from luck while errors or mistake occur due to a lack of skills.

Beauty bias refers to how we treat another individual based on their, or lack of, physical attractiveness.

Confirmation we will often try to find information that supports our arguments and thinking.

Conformity often associated with group mentality, conformity bias is when our social circle influences our perception of someone.

Contrast Effect effectively comparing apples to oranges, the contrast effect is a type of bias that arises from contrasting two entirely separate things.

Gender Bias is the tendency to prefer one gender over another gender.

Halo & Horns Effect  the halo effect occurs when we focus on one particularly great attribute, ignoring all other flaws or defects while the horns effect involves concentrating solely on one negative characteristic despite other more positive ones.

Name Bias is the tendency people have to judge and prefer people with certain types of names — typically names that are of Anglo origin.

Height Bias or heightism is the tendency to judge a person who is significantly shorter or taller than the socially-accepted human height.

Dealing with Unconscious Biases

Learn as Much as Possible About Unconscious Bias…and Ways to Combat It

Tell Your Story…and Listening to the Stories of Others

Avoid Stereotypes and Over-Generalisations

Separate Feelings from Facts

Have a Diverse Group of People around the Decision-Making Table

Engage in Self- Reflection to Uncover Personal Biases

Develop Safe and Brave Spaces to Discuss Unconscious Bias

Be an Active Ally

Don’t Expect a Quick Fix

Practice Empathy


Where do we go to improve our knowledge about being more inclusive?

What sort of activities could we engage in to improve our knowledge about being more inclusive?


Do you know why people use pronouns in their correspondence? Does everyone use it? Is it a free choice in your organisation?

Using your pronouns in signatures and social media biographies tells everyone that you are not going to assume their gender.

It is an important move towards real inclusivity in the workplace and wider society. It creates a healthier, safe space so everyone can bring their ‘whole self’ to work and be respected for it.

A second benefit in using pronouns is that it helps avoid getting someone’s gender wrong. People with names like Alex…..

A final benefit is to support your trans and non-binary workmates and friends by reducing some of the burden on them to continuously explain their identity.

If we always want to be right, it intensifies because we don’t want to hear anything different other than what we think

Check out this article: Why we should all start using pronouns


We tend to use language that is judgemental, right, wrong, good, bad and therefore evaluative. Of course there are many times that this is appropriate, yet there are plenty of occasions when more descriptive language would be more appropriate, and less critical.

You remember the school report. There is little anyone can do with: “Good,” or “Poor,” perhaps a little better with “must try harder.”

How About This?

“Sally starts well, all her essays are neatly written and concise, however the quality always tends to drop towards the end of the piece of work, if she could maintain consistency through the whole of her work she would receive improved grades from average to excellent.”

Sally has somewhere to go with this, she can improve, and its clear what she needs to do, and she knows what the result of her efforts will be.

  • Action: What situations can you think of where this would be advantageous to use more descriptive language in an Inclusive Conversation?

Action: What other instances do we need to be better at it in terms of inclusion? Is it a two – way street?

Self Awareness

Awareness is knowing what is happening around you.

Self-Awareness is knowing what you are experiencing.

Everything in this article has been leading to this……

To improve our conversational styles and approaches, we need to be able to step back and reflect on who we are, and what we bring to the table or conversation.

We need to reflect on our experiences – how we reacted, what ‘baggage’ we brought to the conversation, factors that can affect our our temperament, mood, body language and reactions at the time.

Factors such a those that we’ve discussed so far, like our biases, terminology used, our assumptions, our views … ‘being right’ – you know that expression, s/he would argue that black is white’!  Our ‘life’s’ influences heavily impact how we approach things.

We need to reflect on how all these may affect the other person/people too. How did my contributions and approach impact on my colleague? How must they be feeling? Did I actually ‘care’ about the outcome on them?

How often do we do that? How often do we sit back and think, “Gosh, I didn’t handle that very well. What must ‘so-and-so’ think of me? If I was in his/her shoes, what on earth would they be saying about me to others?

Useful Questions To Ask Yourself

Perspective taking capability

  • When are you good at seeing the bigger picture?
  • Can you see other people’s truth not just your own?
  • Do you think of what others may be feeling before you act?


  • How often are you present in meetings?
  • Do you react rather than act?
  • Do you give people your full attention?


  • How often do you do things you are really passionate about outside of work? Do your team see this passion?
  • How do you use reward and recognition?
  • Remember stress is the enemy of positivity


  • Get clear on your ‘why’
  • How can you align your why with that of the universities?
  • How can you build a collective purpose within your team?

Five Key Principles To Facilitating Inclusive Conversations


#1 Which involves adapting a stance towards others and yourself in which you temporarily suspend judgement

Am I being compassionate toward myself and the others with whom I’m talking?


#2 Curiosity about others views enables you to continue a productive conversation and learn how your ideas and others can be integrated.

I have some information, others may have different information. Differences are opportunities for learning.

Am I staying open and curious? What is it I want to learn. Know, or question?


#3 Am I sharing what I am really thinking?

Am I modelling the transparent way we want to work together?


#4 Am I committed to being here and doing this work with those present? How am I showing that?

Am I working with those present in ways that help them find their own answers rather than telling them what to do?


#5 Am I holding myself accountable for my contributions to this encounter? Am I doing anything that others could and should do for themselves? Am I working in ways that decrease dependency on me in the long run?

Am I holding others fully accountable for their choices?

Additional Thinking


  • The capacity to understand and enter into another’s persons feelings and emotions, or to experience something from another persons point of view. German: Einfühlung Greek: Empathia affection or passion, from en in +pathos suffering
  • Inclusion is not a checklist but a continuous exercise in empathy.
  • References back to a policy of using Pronouns in everyone’s email signatures. To get around deadnaming, what it means for the trans community and enabling a flexible names policy is not just a process to put in place, it is actually a way to acknowledge and recognise trans identity.
  • We shouldn’t approach inclusion (or specifically inclusive communication) as a checklist of experiences or accommodations to tick off a list. Instead, connect empathetically with your audience. Think about their experiences and how language and communication can impact the way they absorb your message. For example, consider the need for employees use a name other than what’s on their legal documents. To understand this more, read about deadnaming and what this can mean for the trans community.
  • Provide tools for inclusion and showcase role model behaviour
  • Leaders are role models, whether they want to be or not, whether they are good role models or not, they become role models as everyone looks up to them. They need your support including coaching and guidance to be experts in communication. They set the bar for the rest of the company so empowering them goes a long way for your organisation
  • And provide resources, like inclusive language guides, books and resources for everyone in your organisation so people can build their own skills, awareness and grow. You have to meet people where they are and give them the tools to grow. Consider offering a library of books to borrow on topics of diversity and inclusion. Or try scheduling a podcast club (or discussion group) to encourage people to drive their own learning journey by listening to and discussing relevant podcasts. This empowers them to take ownership in creating an inclusive work environment.

Interests – Focus on Interests, Not Positions

  • Concentrating on peoples interests rather than positions: Focusing on interests is another way of sharing relevant information. Interests are the needs, desires, and concerns that people have in regard to a given situation
  • Positions or solutions are how people meet their interests. In other words, people’s interests lead them to advocate a particular solution or position
  • An effective way for groups to solve problems is to begin by sharing their individual interests.
  • Once they agree to a set of interests for the group, which may or may not include all the individual interests identified, they can begin to generate solutions or positions that take that set of interests into account.
  • “However if we decide to announce the layoffs, I want to do it in a way that enables people to plan for the transition and still maintain productivity.”

We assume wrongly so how about replacing them with these:

  • I have some information; others have other information
  • Each of us may see things the others do not
  • I maybe contributing to the problem
  • Differences are opportunities for learning
  • People may disagree with me and have pure motives