We Can’t Talk about That at Work!

We Can’t Talk About That at Work!: How to Talk about Race, Religion, Politics, and Other Polarizing Topics by Mary-Frances Winters (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2017, p 185) 

There is an age-old truism in office etiquette. Don’t talk about politics, religion, race, or any polarizing issues. Times are changing and the progressive nature of the millennial generation challenges these rules. We Can’t Talk About That at Work by Mary-Frances Winters is the guide for successful conversations in the office about these exact topics. Before diving right into bold and inclusive dialogue, be sure to follow Winter’s steps and prep the office for uncomfortable interactions. 

Overview

This book is a guide for leaders to introduce a multicultural worldview into the workplace through inclusive conversations on a variety of topics. Previous taboo subjects of race, religion, and politics are now compounded by other emerging marginalized categories of society. Gender identity, Islamophobia, transexuality, and disability issues are present in the workplace. Even if a policy prohibits the discussion of such issues, employees cannot escape the reality of their experiences by simply walking through the double-glass doors at the office. Winters expresses the need for these conversations now more than ever. Employees are not immune from societal affects and bring fear (the most carried emotion) into the workplace. Leaders must address the emotional and psychological weight crushing employee performance. How? Getting ready for inclusive conversations that will foster a friendly work environment. 

Each individual must get ready for bold and inclusive conversations at work before attempting discussions. Foremost is understanding one’s own worldview and the impact on one’s own actions in the workplace. Are you coming from a privileged background? Did you struggle with personal issues out of your control? Do you project your vision of the world into a situation you are not familiar with personally? An Intercultural Development Continuum aids this process in setting a basis for bold conversations (p 29). Next is expanding your understanding of others and their unique situations. Winters does an excellent job explaining the tendencies for single stories to dominate a cultural narrative. Not allowing stereotypes to dictate interactions or profile cultural situations is a major step in her process preparing for inclusive conversations. 

Organizational planning and coordination followed individual preparation in setting a controlled environment for these inclusive and bold conversations. Winters is not preparing every leader and employee to discuss the killing of black men by law enforcement at a water cooler. Instead, the organization and leaders must devote time, resources, and energy to constructing a safe and inclusive environment to hold these discussions. Winters discusses many instances where employees are singled out based on their gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation and are subjects of interrogation style interviews. This is not the conversation a progressive work environment wants to implement. Avoid these scenarios by reading this book! 

Finally, Winters constructs a framework for beginning inclusive conversations and maintaining bold discussions with lasting impact. Her Model for Bold, Inclusive Conversations visually represents the path for any organization interested in progressive discussions at work (p 88). Leaders are integral to and must guide the process towards healthy outcomes for employees and the organization. One bold, inclusive conversation will not be enough. Winters develops the process further with subsequent sessions and future planning for discussions to reach cumulative success. Just as organizations are not ready to dive right in, they will need multiple events to sustain success of the program. 

Final Thoughts

Mary-Frances Winters captures decades of experience and leadership in preparing this guide for enabling bold, inclusive conversations in the workplace. Although her perspectives revolve heavily around the difficulties surrounding race in America, inclusion of all minority groups is present. Distinctive to this book on inclusion and diversity is the preparation of majority group members to hold difficult conversations. Throughout the book, guidelines and suggestions for senior or corporate leadership stress empathy for issues occurring outside of the organization. Her strategy to understand the impact of current events on the workforce requires a progressive worldview, which some organizations lack. Even the most conservative corporations must realize the evolution of etiquette in the workplace and eagerness of employees to share feelings, beliefs, and emotions. Winters’ book, We Can’t Talk About That at Work, is an excellent starting point for any leader to transverse this transition. 


Jason Miller is a transitioning U.S. Army soldier and DODReads SkillBridge intern. His reading interests include military history, foreign policy, and politics. Jason can be contacted on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonmiller83/

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