Our world has changed and is changing. To support the basic needs of our employees, our workplaces must prioritize conversations that honor all employees.  

Deeper understanding and connection among team members starts with open conversation. Leaders have the responsibility and privilege of honoring all employee experiences by modeling and encouraging meaningful discussions. Conversations that honor all employees are especially important in the wake of disruptive events at the local and national levels. 

How to Have Conversations that Honor All Employees

Most of us expect to have conversations about performance and strategy at work. Few of us expect conversations that honor our perspectives and anxieties. Many employers are finding these inclusive and sensitive conversations are exactly what employees need to move through distraction and disruption. 

Make Room for Meaningful Discussion 

The first step in having conversations that honor all employees is to carve out time for employees to talk. For leaders, this means sending a meeting invitation that explains how the time will be used, especially after a disruptive event. The meeting invitation should be clearly marked as optional for employees.  

Model the Way

As you begin the meeting, describe the purpose of the conversation is to honor employees’ experiences and feelings. Remind employees of any existing meeting norms and emphasize that this is a time for productive, respectful discussion. It is also important to reinforce company values. Then, model the way. 

Get the discussion started by expressing your own feelings about the event or situation. Employees want to know the leader is human and can relate to what the rest of the team is experiencing. After sharing your own thoughts, open up the discussion with “How does it make you feel?”  

Remind those who showed up to the conversation that they do not have to share. Simply observing and silently supporting is completely appropriate. It is also important to ensure everyone who attempts to speak has the opportunity to be heard. Be on the lookout for those who might get cut off or are unable to get their thoughts out before someone else begins to speak.  

As time draws to a close, ask if there is anything you or the organization can do to help further. Also, circle back to the organization’s values and your commitment to supporting their needs. Thank each employee for showing up for the conversation.  

For maximum support and impact, leaders schedule one-on-one connections with employees who attended the conversation. This is a time to reinforce and honor their individual feelings. It’s also a time to ask if there is anything more they need to feel secure and valued by the organization.  

Structure for Conversations that Honor All Employees

  • Remind participants about meeting norms for respectful discussion 
  • Reinforce company values 
  • Acknowledge employees’ unique feelings and experiences 
    • This is a safe space to express feelings. 
  • Remind participants of the purpose of the time (specific event or situation)  
  • Give permission to just observe, not talk 
  • Model the way 
    • How it made me feel 
    • How does it make you feel? 
  • Ask how you/organization can continue to help 
  • Reinforce company values 
  • Thank employees for participating 
  • Connection conversations as a follow-up 
    • How are you feeling today? 
    • Is what we’re doing as an organization helping you?  
    • Is there more I/we can do to support you? 

Think about any recent events and disruption your employees might be experiencing. Would your team benefit from a conversation that honors all employees? 


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