Workplace Leaders Must “Be the Change”

seedling-growthFollowing the most unprecedented, unpredictable Presidential election in U.S. history, the online community has been saturated with posts, tweets, and articles ranging from how people need to handle the emotional aftermath of division and grief to acceptance and “moving on.” There is no doubt that political analysts, news organizations, and universities will be using this election as a case study for a multitude of topics in the years to come: Communication, political strategy, public relations, cross-cultural relations, and change, to name a few. In the workplace, however, political commentary and division can show up in side comments and retorts among co-workers. As a leader, be prepared to handle opposing viewpoints of team members when they are manifested as non-productive behavior.

How will you bring together co-workers who are still divided? How will you encourage moving forward when some people’s minds are still stuck on past events? Let the words of Gandhi guide and inspire you: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

In order to be the change, you must be empowered and responsible for your own actions. Serve as a positive role model for your team. The messages and the energy that you convey will set an example. The same is true for your team members. Arguing, shouting, screaming, demanding, bullying, and blaming others with negative rhetoric will accomplish nothing. Conversely, using a civil tone, listening, collaborating, accepting responsibility, and treating others with dignity and respect will lead to more positive results. Which outcome is preferred? Choose open conversation over open hostility. Choose to rise above rather than fall victim to. Choose to stop the negative rhetoric and instead search for positive outcomes. Choose to find common ground and common purpose.

Lead by example. When you hear opposing viewpoints of a co-worker, don’t belittle that person. Listen. Use positive language that keeps the conversation open rather than shutting it down. Invite greater understanding through listening and using neutral language.

Whether you are engaged in a one-on-one conversation or a group discussion, here are some examples of comments or questions that lead to open dialogue:

Beginning a conversation, use language like this: “Help me to understand your viewpoint.” “Thank you for sharing your perspective.” “I appreciate hearing your point of view.” “I now have a better understanding of why you feel this way.”

As you share your perspective, consider using comments like these: “I would like to share my perspective with you as well. All I ask is that you listen to me.” “There may be times when our viewpoints are opposite. That’s okay. The important thing is that we share, without any judgment or preconceived notions. Let’s really listen to each other.”

As you go deeper into the conversation, to try to find a comfortable half-way meeting point, you may use language like this: “Now that we have shared our thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, let’s look at common threads that we share.” “What would it take for us to come together so we each felt like we got something we wanted?” “How can we ‘agree to disagree’ and still be productive in our work?” “How can we move ahead together?”

You may not be able to resolve every issue. What you will be able to do is begin an open dialogue.

The workplace would be different if one common goal was shared: Open communication. How would your workplace change if employees at all levels of the company shared their voices in an open forum? How are you creating a safe environment for open, honest conversation? What opportunities are you providing to your team to engage in sharing their feelings in a respectful, nonjudgmental way?

“Being the change” is not easy. It’s difficult. Shifting from potentially destructive behavior to productive behavior is a giant leap. It begins with one step. Initiate a positive conversation that matters. You are worth it. Your team is worth it. Your workplace is worth it.

What Jon Stewart Teaches Us About Power Positioning

Jon Stewart, Comedy Central

Jon Stewart, Comedy Central

When Jon Stewart left Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, people were wondering what he was going to do. The answer is simple: He is doing good. Listen up, professionals, and learn from Stewart, who is using his positioning power to give others a voice.

On the December 7, 2015 Daily Show, host Trevor Noah welcomed back Stewart, who is bravely tackling a serious issue before Congress right now: the fight to continue funding for first responders of the 9/11 tragedy through the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act. H.R. 1786 “amends the Public Health Service Act to extend the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program Fund.  Watch the full episode here.

Stewart and a video crew accompanied first responders to Capitol Hill, visiting the offices of senators, most of whom were (conveniently) out, unavailable or in meetings. With every rejection from Senate staff, Stewart pushed on, heading to the next senator’s office, determined to let first responders’ voices be heard. There were no altercations, no harsh words, just a message that needed to be heard. The only leader who took the time to talk with Stewart and first responders was Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who later signed the act.

For two decades, I have coached professionals on the importance of power positioning. I define power positioning as “The art of putting yourself in a place that you want to be, that maximizes your talents, skills and contacts.” Stewart demonstrated power positioning in action on Capitol Hill. In his Daily Show appearance, he reached millions of loyal Daily Show viewers, encouraging them to contact their senators and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He asked them to Tweet using #worstresponders. He recognized that he had the clout and power to raise his voice and raise the collective consciousness of Americans. Political leaders across the country can take pointers from Jon Stewart’s integrity and high level of professionalism. It comes at a time when lives have been shattered and communities are still rebuilding from devastation. It’s time to do the right thing.

All too often, you can easily become passive, detached or uninvolved in the issues of your community, your workplace and the world. The next time you rationalize why you shouldn’t get involved, think again. Your voice could make a difference in someone else’s quality of life.

Thank you, Jon Stewart, for elevating our awareness about this important issue. You continue to be a positive role model for other leaders. You inspire and motivate us all to do a better job of putting other people’s needs ahead of our own.

Social Change Begins With Open Dialogue

intercultural-communication-2There is a constant thread running through the daily news feed: The need for honest, open, respectful dialogue to create true social change. Whether it is a single altercation with the law or a community demonstration, too many lives are being ended abruptly and unnecessarily because what could have been a normal conversation escalated into shouts and shots.

On October 17, something miraculous happened outside the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Columbus, Ohio: Open dialogue.

A sole Christian protester (named Annie) came to the Cultural Center prepared to protest against the Islamic faith. Instead of provoking Annie, Antioch University religious scholar Micah David Naziri engaged in open dialogue. It began with a few simple questions and comments. The near 50-minute conversation, captured on videotape, was civil and peaceful. Although the two disagreed on principles and beliefs, they were able to remain engaged in a cooperative manner during the entire discussion. One Muslim, Cynthia DeBoutinkhar, approached Annie and gave her a hug. She posted her experience on Facebook. A small group of the Cultural Center’s membership walked Annie to the mosque to continue the conversation.

Social change begins with face-to-face dialogue that is respectful, non-judgmental and non-confrontational. Building on a one-on-one dialogue, we can also create a broader, open community engagement.

There is much to be learned about respectful communication and understanding. It begins with educating ourselves. While we speak up for what we believe in, we must also treat others with dignity and respect – even those whose opinions are opposite ours. We must first open up our own thinking before we can engage in open dialogue. Instead of setting aside differences, bring them into the dialogue for closer examination, understanding and resolution. Whether in your home, office or community, you possess the power to engage in a conversation that leads to greater understanding. To expand your thinking, consider these resources:

The Facebook page for Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion, a collaborative effort between UNESCO and the UN Alliance of Civilizations

The American Library Association’s Community Conversation Workbook, if you want to coordinate a community conversation

The Plum Village Conflict Resolution Guide, incorporating in its foundation both mindfulness and loving kindness

Beyond religious differences, we encounter many differences in our everyday life. Our behavior informs how we view and respond to those differences. These resources, above, provide unique perspectives on how we can see the world more holistically.

Conversation Leads to Understanding


People are in great need today of connecting through conversation. Understanding – and healing – comes through honest, open dialogue.

More than a decade ago, I read an article in Utne Reader about a group called the Conversation Cafe that was looking for people who were interested in hosting conversations in cities and towns across America.

I began hosting a monthly Conversation Cafe on various topics and soon realized that people were craving connection through meaningful dialogue. As facilitator, it is my responsibility to keep the conversation focused and moving. The simple Conversation Cafe model works. What makes this model different is that it uses a talking object, a simple item that is passed from person to person. The person with the talking object in hand has the floor. No one can interrupt that person while speaking. The facilitator can ask clarifying questions.

What makes the Conversation Cafe unique is its agreements. All participants agree to follow the protocol. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could use agreements like this in our workplace or home conversations?

  • Open-mindedness: Listen to and respect all points of view.
  • Acceptance: Suspend judgment as best you can.
  • Curiosity: Seek to understand rather than persuade.
  • Discovery: Question assumptions, look for new insights.
  • Sincerity: Speak from your heart and personal experience.
  • Brevity: Go for honesty and depth but don’t go on and on.

Conversations include a four-step process that helps the group to better understand each other’s thoughts and feelings. During the final round, I close the conversation by asking the question, “What are you taking away from our conversation?” Participants’ comments usually include how glad they were that they came, how much they learned, how they enjoyed hearing other people’s thoughts, ideas or perspectives, or how they will challenge their thinking on the subject. Often, participants transform their thinking on the topic.

Today, the Conversation Cafe model is hosted in seven countries. Eleven states in the United States host Cafes. If you are interested in starting a Conversation Cafe in your corner of the world, visit the Conversation Cafe website.

Companies, organizations, groups, cities, states and countries can benefit from using the Conversation Cafe model to open up dialogue. By listening to each other’s voices in a respectful way, we will be better able to understand each other.

All positive change begins with open dialogue.