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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Apr 26, 2023

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has become an important topic in Japan and the trigger to getting to diversity is getting inclusion.  When people feel included in the team, they are more motivated, hard working and committed to the firm.  Retention is a nightmare problem which will unfold slowly and terrifyingly for all firms over the next few years.  Getting people to join is one problem in a declining population reality and keeping the ones you managed to hire, will be the bigger problem.  Training them, to then see them walk out the door to the competitor is a very painful prospect to entertain and no one wants to see that unfold. This is where the inclusion part helps us to keep our people with us and not have them stray.

One of the ways to improve the inclusion culture inside the organisation is to find the glue to meld everyone together as a team. We want people to be able to contribute and that  means we will have to deal with having different opinions and personality styles scattered amongst the team.  We can start by having the team members take a cold hard look at themselves.  How open are they to hearing different views on subjects? 

There are three options when having debates about what is the best for the firm.  Some people are very self-assured, confident, quick and can be aggressive in driving their opinion and having everyone else adopt what they think.  Others avoid any type of conflict and so become passive, just keeping their head down and going with the flow.  They keep their ideas from the group and don’t contribute to the search for the best solution.  Often these people are also deep thinkers and they take more time to process their thoughts, because they are going many layers deeper than others.  They can be run over by the more aggressive team members and are left out of the discussion entirely, so the organisation fails to get the benefit of their insights and experience. The third group are assertive and able to argue their case, but with tact and diplomacy.  Being assertive allows contribution, but doesn’t deny others the right to argue their ideas. This approach assists with gaining more internal inclusitivity.

Understanding where you sit on this continuum is useful to help access the greatest range of possible solutions for problems facing the team.  The aggressive can be encouraged to think more about how to move to an assertive position, because it is less abrasive and less likely to be rejected. The passive group, now that their degree of self-awareness has been heightened, can be supported to voice their opinions without fear of being steamrolled, critiqued or embarrassed.  The requirement here is to build a psychologically safe, inclusive working environment for all of the team members.

In most cases, when we have a debate and we state our position, we usually do this as a reflex action rather than one requiring a lot of introspection.  This tends to see us engaging our mouth before we engage our brain. Sometimes what comes out of our mouth may have not been the best option.  Rather, a good practice is to think before we speak and ask ourselves first, “what do I think, why do I think that and what has brought me to this belief – what have I read, seen, experienced to get me to this position?”.  That short piece of self-reflection goes a long way to changing the way we communicate what we think.

Just blurting out our opinion is just a statement without any supporting evidence to back it up.  Let’s change our style and instead start by conveying some context around why we think what we think, rather than just telling people what we think. The listener now has a lot more to consider rather than just rejecting the simple punchline. If both sides are doing this then the discussion is much richer and the chances of one side converting the other goes up dramatically, as opposed to getting bogged down in a bun fight over differing views.  When we get more information, we are allowed to change our views on the subject at hand. We also discover we share a lot of common ground too, where we are in agreement and this takes a lot of the heat out of the disagreement. 

Another useful exercise is to proactively identify our “hot button” words.  These are words which when we hear them, we typically go straight to an emotional response and we by-pass the brain completely.  Being told “no” to something we want or “you are wrong”, are very common examples.  We tune out the explanation of the why behind the “no” or “you are wrong”, because we are super busy working on our response, which contains the thousand golden reasons why the answer should be a “yes” or “why we are right”.  When we take the time to isolate out which words we react to the most strongly, we are on the first step to controlling our responses and building an inclusive culture. 

By doing this exercise first, when we hear the “hot button” word, we can elegantly move from ear, to brain, to mouth and in the process deal with the source of irritation much more diplomatically.  We may choose to delay our response, to help us cool down or we may ask for more information, to better understand why they are saying it this way.  We might seek other opinions before we respond to get some impartial advice.  We might decide to just ignore it and accept that not everyone is smart or a competent communicator or necessarily sufficiently self-aware in how they interact with others.  In other words, we are not just reacting to the provocation and instead are picking our battles to fight.  We might come to agree with their idea, because we gained some insight from the “why” part of the discussion which we were not previously aware of.  We can maintain the inclusivity of the group, even when there are some people who can be seriously annoying.

Being inclusive helps us to accept that not everyone is the same or that we will always be in agreement with each other.  We can agree to disagree, without destroying the relationship and descending into some old fashioned internecine trench warfare between the silos in the organisation, as often happens in the corporate world.  By becoming more self-aware, we can become more accepting and more inclusive, because we are engaging the brain first rather than getting run over by our emotions.  By becoming more inclusive we can create more diversity in the firm.