Without fear of contradiction, the discussion around race and racism in this country has moved to an across-the-board focus, including in the business world. That means leaders of all races and backgrounds need to be able to have company-wide conversations they may have never had before. How do they do that? Here are some suggestions:
It starts early: First impressions come in many forms. Sensitive wording on the invitation is a great starting point. Be careful to avoid “past credits.” Have you done good things over the years? Probably, but this is not the time to recall previous progress. This moment calls for a clear-eyed look ahead and a focus on what still needs to be done.
First impressions continue with the very first moments anyone enters the room. Eye contact and body language make a difference. Respect and humility go a long way. A posture of concern and caring translates into an especially strong message when coming from those who traditionally lead. This even extends to video meetings. Words of welcome and concern before the official start of the gathering are small gestures that carry a bigger meaning. I know you are busy but get to the virtual meeting early and make sure people understand you have one focus – this important topic. (Not the time to multi-task!)
When the speaking begins: Let people know leaders are here to listen. It sends a strong message – and saying it out loud is a great starting point. Further, an agenda which allows for some flex and humanity sets a tone less focused on “getting this done” and instead focuses on “people being heard.” Might there be some emotion present? Probably. Be comfortable with that from the start and there is likely to be far less drama when all is said and done. Finally, be specific. Your audience will be listening for you to talk about George Floyd and the death of Black people during encounters with law enforcement.
Some message missteps: These meetings are not an end in themselves. No leader should communicate they have addressed all the issues after any single meeting. This is a journey – and saying those words out loud will also set a positive tone.
Thoughtful finishing words and then follow-up: By having the closing words of the meeting reflect the value of listening will underline your original message. Express the importance of this moment-in-time and the sincere need for change – within whatever context is possible in the corner of the world where you have some say. Then, a genuine effort to continue communication around the topics raised – whether in one-on-one form or in groups helps establish structure. All of it provides a place for energy and focus on issues we clearly are far from resolving.
Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.