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Want to be inclusive? It starts with the mind...

Updated: Apr 16

Green neon letters saying habits to be made

What does being inclusive mean to you?

Respecting Britain's array of cultural days?

Calling out prejudice?

Supporting organisations that campaign for equity?

This is great, but it's only part of the picture.

To be truly inclusive you need to challenge yourself by dismantling some of your learned skills and assumptions, which often go back to childhood. Then you need to rebuild them using new information.

When learning to be inclusive, we need to strive to suspend judgement and manage our reactions to new information and ideas in the realm of equality, diversity and inclusion. It's a skill that can take a while to develop as it feels counterintuitive to how we've learned to communicate and think.

Be curious

We should approach situations with curiosity and a willingness to learn without judgement. It's a form of emotional intelligence which society has never really encouraged. Traditionally, we've placed more value on more domineering behaviour.

This intelligence is inherent in many people who are marginalised because we've had no choice but to figure out how to fit into a society that basically rejects who we are. From childhood we learn to observe, reflect and adjust in order to fit in. So we possess the skills that wider society struggles with.

Quote which says intelligence is the ability to adapt to change - Stephen Hawking

Re-routing your thoughts

How do you re-route your thoughts so you don't jump to conclusions or react, and trigger anger, confrontation and such like? And impede an opportunity to learn.

Below are a few techniques you can use to make more space for other people's points of view, enabling you to understand them better and apply that in your work.

1. Acknowledge your own biases

We all have biases and recognising them is essential to understanding how they may influence our interpretation of events and other people's behaviour. Examine your personal experiences, cultural background, and social conditioning and how it may have shaped your perspective. Then you can begin to unravel your biases.

This implicit bias test by Harvard University enables people check different kinds of social attitudes and biases - why not try it (I got a bit of a shock when I did it)?

2. Accept different perspectives

Recognise that there may be multiple valid perspectives on the same issue. Avoid limiting your understanding to only one viewpoint. If you're feeling vulnerable or uncomfortable, and need to pause the conversation, you can do so with respect and honesty. There's nothing wrong with taking a breather if you need time for reflection. In my training, I always emphasise to participants that they can leave the room or switch off cameras if they need a moment.

Peach coloured neon letters on a brick wall with bookshelves either side. The letters say you are what you listen to.

3. Try active listening

When in conversation or in training, give your full attention to the other person's perspective without interrupting or formulating your response while they're speaking.

To practise this, try to halt your instant reactions while reading, listening to, or watching national and international news (which is almost always provocative nowadays). If you get angry - and I really wouldn't blame you - you'll probably feel it in your body first (for me it's in the belly!) before you express it. Keying into these feelings will help you recognise them as they arise, so you can avoid reacting.

After a while you might notice how some of the stories are constructed to trigger a strong negative emotion such as fear. Selective use of language, images and film can be highly triggering.

I recommend giving mindfulness a try as it's great for teaching you how to pay attention to your thoughts while also suspending them. Follow Ruby Wax for more information on mindfulness (she's one of my 'sheroes' and speaks from a qualified position).

4. Practice empathy

Put yourself in the other person's shoes and try to understand their thoughts, feelings and experiences from their point of view. Imagine how you would feel if you were in their situation. If you struggle with this don't worry, the skill may come over time if you consciously make effort to see things from others' perspectives.

More about the benefits with empathy here.

"We have far more united and have far more in common, than that which divides us." - the late Jo Cox MP.

5. Seek common ground

The above quote from the late Jo Cox MP's maiden speech sums up inclusion work wonderfully. Identify areas of agreement or shared experiences despite your differing perspectives and values. This can help build rapport and foster a more open dialogue and build respectful relationships.

A sign lies next to a cup of coffee, pie with a slice missing and a slice of pie on a grey marbled patterned plate. The sign is black with clip-on white letters all in upper case. The word say equal rights for others doesn't mean fewer rights for you - it's no pie.

6. Reflect on your growth

As the world is never still, the inclusivity journey will never stop. Regularly reflect on your efforts and development. Identify areas for improvement and continue to challenge yourself to expand your perspectives. I hope that, like me, you'll enjoy the discoveries about the world and its people - it really does enrich our lives.

Need help with inclusive storytelling, engagement and company communications? Get in touch:

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