Top 5 Tips for Navigating Racial Dialogues in the Workplace

Published On: August 11, 2022|Categories: Employees|

Race has become the single most taboo topic to discuss, both in and out of the workplace.

Most people would rather talk about money, sex or even politics than get involved in a discussion about race, but sometimes, it just comes up.

Small talk happens in just about every workplace, but if small talk takes an unexpectedly damaging turn, it’s important to learn how to navigate these instances in a respectful way.

In this article, we’re going to share with you our top five tips for navigating racial dialogues in the workplace.

To discuss or not discuss?

There are two general schools of thought when it comes to the topic of race, both of which revolve around opening up discussions, but in different ways. 

The first school of thought is very problem-oriented, focusing on learning and understanding the racial traumas and injustices that have and continue to occur within our nation.

The second school of thought is more solution-oriented, focusing on the steps that need to be taken in present-day to heal from and eliminate (as much as possible) current injustices.

True healing and justice occurs when these efforts are merged together. Learning about the past without a plan for the present will only cause us to become trapped in past traumas; but creating solutions for problems we don’t understand can be ineffective and unsustainable.

There’s a way to open up racial dialogues to understand what happened in the past (so that we don’t repeat it), while simultaneously staying future- and solution-oriented so we truly progress instead of regress.

Racial dialogues in the workplace

A great freedom in our country is that every single one of us is entitled to our own thoughts and opinions. Sometimes, vocalizing these thoughts and opinions can do more harm than good, hurt people more than help them and offend more than defend.

When it comes to controversial topics in the workplace — especially those revolving around race — there really isn’t a need to open up a dialogue with your coworkers. There are a few instances where discussing controversial topics is a necessary part of your field (such as in journalism or news), but for the most part, the workplace is not the place for these discussions.

To help prevent unnecessary hostility (or even an altercation) amidst your coworkers, it’s best to steer clear of racial dialogues in the workplace. If you happen to find yourself in one here are our top five tips to help you navigate through it.

1. Discern harmful versus helpful conversations

Whether the conversation you were actively in took a turn towards race, or you just entered a new conversation that’s about race, take a moment to pause and listen. Discern whether or not race is being discussed in a harmful versus helpful way before saying or doing something.

2. Feel free to walk away

The discussion may be entirely work appropriate and not at all injurious, but sometimes you just feel uncomfortable talking about such a topic at work, and that’s okay. In these instances, it’s perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself from the conversation, and you don’t even have to explain why if you don’t want to.

3. Challenge negative speech

If you find yourself in a situation where race is the topic of choice and it’s not being discussed in a respectful or productive way, you have a responsibility to use your voice to defend those who cannot in that moment. Speaking up doesn’t have to be a dramatic moment, or one where you have to be rude or aggressive; rather, challenge harmful dialogues with respect and the truth.

4. Consult a supervisor

If you aren’t confident in your ability to navigate a harmful conversation, the next best thing is to approach your manager or supervisor about it. Some people may be resistant to this method because they don’t want to be a “snitch” — in reality, you’re being a defender, a protector. Give yourself permission to speak up; if not in the conversation, to someone above you.

5. Reach out for assistance

Maneuvering controversial topics in the workplace is no easy feat, but we’re here to walk you through it. If you find yourself overwhelmed, though, or you simply want some professional guidance, consider reaching out to our team here at Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP.

We pride ourselves on being the premier nationwide employee assistance organization, with programs we tailor for your specific needs. Our passion is your success.

To learn more about how we can help you navigate challenges in your career, give us a call anytime at 800-543-5080.

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