I recently offered a Full Voice presentation for a group of diversity and inclusion managers at a large financial institution.
Expressions like, “we need every voice at the table” or “everyone must have a voice in this organization” inevitably arise in conversations about inclusion. These comments are usually metaphorical in nature, but I do see the critical role our literal voices play in creating vibrant connections across differences.
Even when there is a sincere desire to create an atmosphere where all people feel free to offer their perspectives, it can be difficult to do. Here are a few reasons why:
• Silence is a strong habit. People who are used to being silent may find it difficult to speak up. One invitation may not be enough.
• Oppression, discrimination, and bullying can make being seen and heard feel downright dangerous to those who have experienced it.
• Many cultures place a high value on conformity and blending in. What can be an asset in one of those cultures can look like a deficit in dominant Western culture where extroversion and individuality is valued.
• People from under-represented groups are often reluctant to call attention to their differences in a group.
• People who speak a second language in their everyday life are sometimes self-conscious about their accents or vocabularies.
• Those who are used to taking up the airwaves sometimes find it difficult to stop talking and start listening. They inadvertently fill every available space.
• Timing and pacing vary widely among cultures. People who are used to fast-paced conversations may not wait long enough for a slower speaker to jump in.
Four things you can do to connect with people across difference:
1. Learn about the cultures of others, especially how they speak, listen, move, and connect.
2. Discover and master the diversity of sounds your voice contains. You’ll have many more choices when you are communicating across differences.
3. Listen deeply to the sounds, rhythms, and subtleties within the voices of people you meet. Develop a keen ear for how people speak, not just what they say.
4. And most importantly, notice how the way you are speaking and listening is affecting your connection with the other person. Connection is the conduit through which all communication travels.
What have your discovered about how voice affects inclusion and diversity?