The Power of Inclusive Leadership Communication: You will Retain Talent and Create Belonging

Inclusive communication

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We all desire for a well-collaborative team. You can achieve it with Inclusive Leadership Communication. Here you can read about the importance of inclusive communication and get a practical framework for achieving it.

In today’s diverse and interconnected workplace, effective communication is key to make sure that everyone in the team are included. It will help you to fostering a sense of belonging, reducing misunderstandings, and promoting teamwork. How can I communicate more effectively you might ask and that is why this article is all about Inclusive Leadership Communication. Beacuse, this mindset will provide you with a more effective way of communicating. It is a mindset that leaders, who wants to be in the forefront, have great success using.

If you rather want to read in Danish then you can access the Danish version here. 

Why Inclusive Communication Matters

To illustrate the significance of inclusive communication, let’s delve into a real-life example involving an employee – let’s call him Daniel and his manager, Marta.

It’s Monday morning, 8:00 a.m., and Daniel turns on his computer. He loves his job, but he’s already exhausted though the week has just started.

Daniel is working in a multinational company, Corp Y, in the green energy sector. He’s part of a team of eight, all technical specialists. He has been working with this team for the past six months and was excited to join them precisely because they are the most qualified in their field. But every time they finish up a meeting, Daniel feels off. He’s afraid of what they think of him, that they find him less competent than the rest of the team, because it’s rare that he ever speaks in a meeting. This feeling worsens when meetings are held online, which they are half the time.

He’s an introvert by nature and needs to reflect on what has been said before he can give input. This is difficult, as there is no time for reflection during the meetings and the other six team members speak almost constantly. To him it doesn’t seem like the team manager is aware of everyone on the team. He can tell that she talks to some of the others more than to him and he is starting to lose his sense of belonging.

Daniel’s manager, Marta, is concerned about whether the company could lose Daniel. Because she can sense that something is off. She is willing to do what it takes to keep him engaged, but she is already stretching her personal limits, working more and more hours. 

Further she is finding that small talk between team members during the day has diminished. She believes it’s one of the downsides of not working together at the office every day. Before, she saw her team at the coffeemaker or water cooler, sharing about what they had to focus on that day or challenges they needed help with. But now, reaching out for necessary help seems like a much bigger effort, and she can tell that everyone, herself included, is dealing with challenges more individually instead of using each other as resources and functioning as a team.

Using Inclusive Leadership Communication

The way we communicate when working together and also in a hybrid setting requires a different mindset than if we work one hundred percent remotely or one hundred percent in person. More than ever, we need to learn how to communicate in an inclusive manner. Communicating inclusively will heighten the sense of belonging and minimize misalignments and misunderstandings requires you to be aware of your mindset. It is a mindset that you have to train yourself to develop. It can lower the risk of employees like Daniel starting to feel excluded, which decreases your team’s effectiveness.

To achieve an inclusive communication style, you need to consider each step in this model:

Inclusive Leadership Communication Model
Figure 1. The Inclusive Communication Model; © Campbell & Justesen, 2022.

The model consists of five circles that create the loop of inclusive communication. When you know who you’re communicating with, reflect on your communication style, and take a curious approach to things, it will affect your body language and the words you use. It will increase your collaboration success.

In Daniel’s case, neither his teammates nor their team manager, Marta—through their body language or words—invite him to participate in their conversations. They are unaware of their exclusive communication style. With that in mind, the first three steps will determine to what extent your body language and words are inclusive. Let’s explain those three steps one by one.

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1. Knowledge and context

This first step in the model is to grasp the knowledge and context. You need a certain degree of knowledge about your collaboration partner to tailor your communication to him. This could mean learning more about his personality, his work/life balance and preferences, or his national cultural heritage and how it impacts work relations. Here you also need to consider the context you’re working in, including the company’s communication norms. The company might have rules for content requirements, safety, or non-communication hours.

The essence of this step is that the more you know your colleagues, the easier it will be to tailor your communication so that the message is well received and understood within the context you collaborate in. Taking the example from before, none of Daniel’s team members have taken the time to get to know each other. Maybe it has always been like that in the company where Daniel works: they talk only about work and forget that each person’s personality is the medium through which she carries out her job. Many work environments are like this, but yours doesn’t have to be.

2. Self-awareness

Being self-aware is the other side of the coin when it comes to the knowledge that we mentioned earlier. It’s about knowing your own personality, talents, blind spots, values, and most common behaviors—including when you’re under pressure. Having a high degree of self-awareness will give you the ability to see things from others’ perspectives, see yourself from the outside, and then reflect on how you behave, your body language, and your words. This will increase your empathy toward the people you collaborate with because you’ll know them and yourself better.

In Daniel’s case, this would have helped him and the rest of the team. Without self-awareness, two people can be left by themselves in a collaborative meeting. And if Daniel took the time to reflect on why this occurs, he might end up with more self-awareness that could help him. He might even dare to ask for reflection time in meetings or something else that could meet his needs. But we need to know each other well enough to dare to ask such questions. Knowledge and self-awareness are solid foundations for the third step in the Inclusive Communication Model: curiosity.

When combining those two: Knowledge and Self-awareness you’ll be more aware of your collaboration partners world view and your own. This will create a foundation of mutual understanding and also how to better align and communicate to make sure your points have landed and is well received. A small but very effectful reflection you can do is on how you write emails. Try to ask yourself: Who is the receiver and how would he/she interpret this email that I’m going to send? For some a strict to-the-point-email with no interpersonal words like: “How has your weekend been?”. Or; “I hope that you had a nice vacation.”, will be seen as inhumane or even rude. While others would find such words unnecessary. When having knowledge of the other(s) preferences and being aware of your own you will increase how well received your communication is and hereby be more effective.     

3. Curiosity

Not knowing your collaboration partner or yourself well will make it difficult to bring yourself to ask questions, especially if it’s about something you find strange or don’t understand.  You likely don’t want to offend anyone or to be seen as the odd one out. Therefore, without the foundation of knowing each other and yourself well, being curious about processes and communication norms can seem overwhelming and take a lot of courage. This could be why no one and especially the manager Martha has done anything to change the situation on Daniel’s team although six months have passed.

When taking the steps of the Inclusive Communication Model, you will have greater success in your collaboration and a solid foundation of minimizing misunderstandings, misalignments, duplicate work, and conflicts. If someone is already starting to feel like an outsider, it will be harder for them to speak up, as you can tell from Daniel’s example. Losing their perspective will decrease the quality of the team’s output. Conversely, being good at inclusive communication will increase psychological safety so that your employees feel they can speak up even when there is a conflict. Healthy conflicts and friction will make the team and their performance better. By daring to dive into those conflicts, you can show that people can have conflicting opinions and that this is good for the team’s performance.

Why the Inclusive Leadership Communication framework is so effective

To give an idea of why this framework is so effective we will provide you with a solid example from one of the many leaders we have worked with. Before Marta – who is now Daniels manager – Michael was in charge. He also had the leading role of a team in Bulgaria. A year in, in the collaboration, he was so frustrated by the Bulgarian team rarely meeting deadlines. He got hold of us and explained his frustration. Shortly after our conversation we brought in the team-lead of the Bulgarian team, Alek, and Michael to meet face to face. We showed them the Inclusive Communication Model and facilitated a discussion of their collaboration norms. Throughout the process Michael suddenly came to the knowledge of his own way of communicating. When he wanted Alek and his team to deliver a task on a curtain time, Michael said: “It would be great, if you have the time to deliver on Friday”. The Bulgarian team lead heard: “if you have the time.”. But they have a lot on their plate and needs to priorities, therefore these tasks with no strict deadline – as they interpreted Michael’s words – was planned to be delivered few days later.

Now Michael, through gaining knowledge about Alek and his team, self-awareness about own habits, and the curiosity to ask, could see that he needed to communicate more clearly. Together, they found a way for their future collaboration and how Michael from now on should communicate his need for when tasks should be delivered.        

So, when you have the foundation of inclusive communication in place, everyone is more on the same page. You will experience clearer communication norms and that your work will become easier with less misunderstandings and conflicts. Further, the team members will be able to fuel the collaboration with more engagement and enthusiasm. This will lead to higher energy in the team setting and more effective collaborations.

Reflecting on your own inclusive communication style

Now, let’s take a moment to reflect on three essential questions that can help you assess if your own communication style is inclusive:

  • Do you really know the people you communicate/collaborate with?
  • Have you ever considered the way you communicate?
  • Have you ever asked the ones you collaborate with whether your communication style is well received?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, there may be room for improvement in your inclusive communication style.

Maybe you should consider coaching – helping you to implement the inclusive communication style. You can reach out or take a closer look at Josefine Campbell as a coach or Gitte Justesen as coach here

And remember that we help people in multinational companies to handle challenges in a meaningful way and take business to the next level. If you would like to be updated with new articles and videos, sign up for our mailing list. Your mail is not shared with anyone and there are advantages to being on the list e.g., getting the first chapter of Josefine Campbell’s book, Power Barometer – How to Manage Personal Energy for Business Success.

References

Edgar H. Schein, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2013).

Richard Lewis, When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures, 4th ed. (Boston: Nicholas Brealey, 2018).

Daniel Coyle, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups (New York: Bantam, 2018).

Bjørn Nygaard, Kulturmødet på arbejdspladsen: Interkulturel kompetence som konkurrenceparameter. [Culture clashes in the workplace: Intercultural competence as a parameter for competition] (Copenhagen: Gyldendal Business, 2012).

Grace Lordan, Teresa Almeida, and Lindsay Kohler, 5 Practices to Make Your Hybrid Workplace Inclusive. Harvard Business Review, August 17, 2021, https://hbr.org/2021/08/5-practices-to-make-your-hybrid-workplace-inclusive.

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