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Archive August 2020 XXI, No. 8

Diversity & Inclusion: Let's Learn How to Discuss Our Differences

Constructive communication will keep needed conversations going.

Rumay Alexander

Rumay Alexander, EdD, RN, FAAN


OPENING UP Creating opportunities for sharing honest feelings about diversity is the critical first step to empathizing with underrepresented groups.

Surgery must be a welcoming space for staff members and patients of all races, sexualities, genders, gender identities, ages, nationalities and physical abilities. Widespread improvements are needed to increase diversity across health care, but it's difficult to address this subject without alienating individuals who have different backgrounds, beliefs, life experiences and viewpoints. Conversations about equality and inclusion can be uncomfortable, but are essential for true progress to occur and become easier with the right ground rules in place.

1Create a safe space

Trust and openness are the foundational elements of constructive dialogue. Staff members take risks when sharing their honest opinions on what's often an emotional topic, and worry about saying the wrong things while searching for the right words. Don't expect everyone to master their feelings and know how to clearly express their thoughts. Make sure staff members give each other the benefit of the doubt and understand that comments or beliefs will not be judged. Emotions can hijack the brain of even the most well-intentioned person and their controversial statements might be based on feelings instead of facts. If you question what someone says, ask them for specifics of what they mean in a non-confrontational tone.

Keep in mind that anonymity might be important to some staff members who fear retaliation for the comments they make. Eventually you'll get to a place where they won't worry about being identified, but don't expect to begin there.

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