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The following story is an example of how an employee and employer worked together to solve a workplace problem which arose from a language barrier. Please dispose of it immediately. The student understood most of the note, but he was reluctant to trust his understanding because the request seemed so odd.

Aims, objectives, and intended audience

He called his supervisor and read the note over the phone. The supervisor told him to follow the instructions on the note. So the employee dutifully threw away pens, pencils, documents and even a computer. He kept a copy of the note. The next day, the office manager called the student to say that there was a problem: one employee was missing a computer and other important supplies and documents. The student agreed to come in and discuss the problem.

He brought the note with him. The manager read the note and told the student that he had done the right thing. The student left the meeting, very relieved. It was subsequently discovered that an employee had written the note as a practical joke on a colleague. He had assumed that the Russian-speaking janitor would not be able to read the note, and the next day his colleague would arrive to see the contents of his desk marked for destruction.

Communication is only one cause of confusion in a multi-cultural workplace. The following material addresses some issues that are frequently mentioned by employers as areas of cross-cultural confusion or misunderstanding.

Creating Brave Conversations About D&I in the Workplace

There are no easy answers. The responses provided are intended to improve awareness of potential solutions. Cross-cultural communication and problem-solving skills must be developed over time and in partnership with non-native speaking employees. Often the best results occur when one has an open mind, plenty of patience, and a willingness to encounter cross-cultural situations as both a student and a teacher. You can provide New Americans with a strong start to a new life by making a donation to the Institute. Give Now. To get there, we have to be willing to have brave conversations that change hearts and minds.

For a diverse workforce to feel included and heard, you have to begin by facilitating conversations that cultivate understanding. To practice diversity and inclusion, it is important that our teams understand the people within the organizations that live, look, and act differently from them. It can be hard for a person from one walk of life to connect with a person from another.

But real-world examples of prejudice and mistreatment can help us to bridge that gap.


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The easiest way for a person to connect with someone else from another walk of life is for them to hear about their experiences, hardships, and successes. Conversations humanize us. Source: Atlassian. These conversations can be uncomfortable, and particularly so for those that find themselves within the majority.


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  • We should lean into that discomfort to move toward a more inclusive future. Encourage sharing from members of majority and marginalized groups. Setting the tone is critical in these conversations. Leadership sets the stage for how these conversations will go and how willing others are to share their own opinions and stories.

    Bravery: The quality or state of having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty. To encourage bravery in others, you need to set the stage by showing your own bravery. As a member of a majority group, discussing your point of view, either current or previous, and showing that you have grown in your own thinking can be a great conversation starter.

    It can mean different things to different people, in different situations. There is reason to believe that recognition plays a primary role in that sense of belonging. In this context, recognition refers both to having accomplishments recognized, but also feeling your opinions and contributions are recognized as well. Just take a look at the results from a recent LinkedIn report. In the report, employees were surveyed and asked what would make them feel like they belong at the company that they work at.

    The results were very interesting:.

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    The top four answers all have to do with recognition — recognition of accomplishments, opinions, contributions, and self. As humans, we connect with stories. Tough conversations become easier to have when we explain situations and tell stories that led to the opinions that we hold today. If an individual within your company held a view that would be seen as insensitive and shared that view without substantiating it, they would almost certainly be viewed in a negative light by their peers.

    What is Finding Common Ground?

    By sharing the experiences that shaped their beliefs, you begin to understand what led them to forming the opinions that they have and contextualize the hurdles that they as a person have to overcome in order to open their mind to new viewpoints. Discuss the deeper meaning and implications behind those stories. Look at how personal experiences shape our worldview. Safe spaces are good for underrepresented groups to come together and support each other, but when it comes to changing the viewpoints of others within the organization you need these brave spaces.

    diversity conversations finding common ground Manual

    As you promote inclusion through brave conversations, that inclusion has to start with the participants in those conversations. Following a conversation, consider what viewpoints you heard from and also what was missing from the conversation. Who could have added to the discussion with their unique experience? What opinions would have stirred the pot and facilitated interesting tangents in the conversations that you had? Take note of marginalized groups that are under-represented in your conversations.


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    • Invite members of those groups to contribute at future discussions. Achieving the superior performance diversity can produce needs further action - most notably, a commitment to develop a culture of inclusion. People do not just need to be different, they need to be fully involved and feel their voices are heard.