By Leah Kyaio
The holiday gatherings are right around the corner. With these gatherings comes a meeting of differing views. Family members who cannot see eye to eye on inclusivity, racial issues, or diversity will break bread and share the same space. If you are a person who values diversity, inclusion, and respect, the mere thought of being thrust into a situation with someone who doesn’t hold those same values can be seriously stress-inducing.
Try approaching the situation through a different lens before you cancel plans or feign illness to avoid awkward confrontations. These disquieting moments with people who hold differing opinions can be teachable moments.
How can you teach family members and friends to be more respectful and to embrace inclusivity?
Show Don’t Tell
One of the most significant ways to teach respect and inclusive values is to model the behavior. If you are clear about showing respect in regular interactions with people, especially those you know disagree with you, you show how easy it can be. It also models for others how to create a calm, inclusive environment where no one feels excluded or discriminated against.
Don’t Let Disrespectful or Insulting Behavior Slide
Often, outwardly rude, disrespectful, exclusionary, or even racist people are looking for attention by being incendiary. They want to poke the bear and see how far they can take their behavior. This attention-seeking behavior can be obnoxious, but it doesn’t mean you should completely ignore it. Bad behavior must be acknowledged and corrected.
For example, if you’re at the dinner table and a family member uses a slur or inflammatory language, it’s acceptable to say, “I wish you wouldn’t use that word/language. I find it offensive.”
Sometimes, all it takes is someone to call attention to the bad behavior to put an end to it, at least in the moment.
Make an Effort to Hear Them Out
Anger and a feeling of not being heard can lead people to lash out. When someone feels like their side isn’t being acknowledged, interactions can quickly devolve into name-calling or other disrespectful approaches.
Even if you disagree with someone, try to give them the respect and space to say to their peace. Acknowledge that they are heard and understood, even if you still do not agree with their position.
This approach harkens back to showing, not telling. By modeling respectful listening and truly hearing behavior, you are teaching your friend or family member how it’s done.
Praise Baby Steps Towards Agreement
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and disrespectful or discriminatory people don’t just flip a switch and become inclusive and considerate people overnight. Exclusionary opinions can be deeply ingrained, and an effort to change views can be hard-won.
Paying heed to steps taken towards seeing one another’s side of things can encourage change. An example can include something as small as thanking someone for remembering a person’s correct pronouns (or acknowledging that they got them wrong and corrected themselves). Perhaps your family member or friend was always very loose with their language in mixed company but is making strides towards being more respectful with their words. Don’t ignore efforts to change, even if they seem slow.
Set Clear Boundaries
We teach people how to treat us, and we can also teach people how to treat others. Setting clear boundaries with people can teach them the consequences of disrespectful behavior.
Boundaries keep people safe, and they teach people how you need to be treated. Boundaries need to be firm so people cannot easily cross them, but not so firm that communication is impossible.
To set healthy boundaries and teach people how to respectfully interact with you, your communication needs to be clear. Be upfront about what behavior or talk you will not tolerate and the consequences of disrespectful or exclusionary behavior.
It may not be our job to modify behavior, especially with adults. Whatever the reason we may be gathering with friends or family, we should be doing so under the impression that adults know how to behave. This would be the case in a perfect world. But, the world we inhabit is not perfect, not by a long shot. By modeling respectful and inclusionary behavior and communicating clearly, we can be a beacon for people open to learning a better way of approaching interactions.
Leah Kyaio is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion expert and the CEO of With-Respect, a DEI/HR consultancy agency. With-Respect exists in response to a widespread need within organizational systems to shift in order to reflect the increasing diversity of our global community. All organizations and businesses can benefit from the services With-Respect offers. Our expertise in identifying, informing, and building processes and programs to meet these growing needs means we are the best choice to serve your organization. Leah’s firm specifically helps with providing strategies for engaging resistance within the workforce as well as issues where previous diversity work has resulted in divisiveness, violence, or toxic work environments.