‘All Lives Matter’ might be offensive,” he says. It’s like
criticizing those who support people with breast cancer for not focusing on people with other cancers—their
advocacy “doesn’t mean that other cancers are OK,” he
He believes such open conversations have brought
about a culture shift at Accenture.
“I’ve seen an enormous growth in people participat-
ing and getting involved in activities inside the office,”
he says. “When you start to share personal experiences
with people, you start to connect with them.”
And while encouraging sensitive discussions can
make some people uncomfortable, “the greater risk is
to do nothing,” says Ashlee Carlisle, a member of the
African-American business resource group at The Her-
shey Co. “Understand that every conversation is giving
someone the courage and power to do what’s right.”
Dori Meinert is senior writer/editor of HR Magazine.
This article relates to Global & Cultural
Effectiveness, one of the nine competencies on which SHRM has based its certification. To learn more, visit www
AVOIDING COMMUNICATION TRAPS
When diversity consultant Maura
Cullen mentions the following common “dumb things people say” in her
workshops, there’s an audible groan
from people of color because they’ve
heard the comments so often:
“Some of my best friends
“I don’t think of you as …”
“I don’t see color. I’m color-
While the statements may be
intended as unifiers, they often create a larger divide.
Ironically, “people don’t typically
say they don’t notice color until they
notice color,” Cullen says. “It’s like
me saying to a man, ‘I don’t notice
that you’re a man.’ They would look
at me like I have two heads. The
problem is not noticing the differ-
ence. It’s what we do once we notice
that can be the game changer.”
She offers the following tips for
avoiding communication traps and
de-escalating tense conversations:
■ ■ Understand that even the most
well-meaning people can do harm.
Acknowledge any pain you may
have caused without getting defensive.
■ ■ Use the “BAR” technique to
defuse uncomfortable situations:
breathe deeply to calm yourself;
acknowledge what the person is
saying by actively listening or asking questions; and respond, don’t
react—in other words, think before
■ ■ Shift from “me” to “we.” You
can’t empathize with others when
you’re focused on yourself.
■ ■ When you inadvertently say
something offensive, apologize
immediately. Don’t pretend it didn’t
‘WHEN YOU START
TO SHARE PERSONAL
PEOPLE, YOU START TO
CONNECT WITH THEM.’
—RAH THOMAS, ACCENTURE
marginalization and discrimination that some are
“Now more than ever, we want to make sure every
individual throughout our company feels encouraged
and included,” says Alicia “AJ” Petross, senior director,
global culture, diversity and inclusion and engagement,
at Hershey, headquartered in central Pennsylvania.
Representatives of Hershey’s eight business resource
groups met with about 100 senior leaders to discuss how
the group members were reacting to events in the U.S.
The HR team developed a short set of talking points and
questions for leaders to use as conversation starters with
their team members.
In the group discussions at Accenture, Thomas remembers vividly the moment he heard a Muslim employee
speak about being pulled out of an airport line for further scrutiny when non-Muslim colleagues were waved
through the security gate. He could relate.
“I feel it as a black person with dreadlocks in corporate America,” says Thomas, whose lengthy hair reflects
his West African culture.
In the discussion, white colleagues asked about the
Black Lives Matter movement. “They didn’t know that
WATCH diversity consultant Maura
Cullen talk about using the “BAR”
technique to manage difficult conversations productively.