Listening from the Heart

It’s hard to concentrate on writing tonight. You see, I’m excited…and nervous. Tomorrow morning more than eighty public servants are gathering from all over government to explore empathy and diversity at the June Human Workplace Meet Up in Olympia.

I’m thrilled and can’t wait to have this conversation with this caring community. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being anxious too. After all the subject of diversity is a challenging one and taps in to some of our most difficult and long-standing social issues. 

But as my colleague, a man of color, pointed out to me, we can’t talk about love and safety and a human-centered workplace without talking about diversity and inclusion. We can’t talk about making work more human without facing the fact that some team members in our workplaces have very different work experiences from the majority. He is exactly right.

Some have NEVER experienced love at work, only tolerance at best and active aggression at worst. Some team members do not feel physically or psychologically safe, let alone trusted. Some team members don’t feel they can be authentic, let alone that they belong. Those wounds run deep and the scars of discrimination endure.

But meanwhile, many of us are unaware of our colleagues’ life experiences. Even though we work side by side every day, we don’t know their stories. We don’t know the uniqueness and richness of their perspectives. We can’t anticipate how the things we say or do in the workplace may impact others with different life experiences or identities. We aren’t aware because for the most part we’ve never asked and truly listened.

So Friday morning we will take one small step.

For some people this will be a natural, energizing step to have a conversation about diversity. They may feel joy and relief. Others may be uncomfortable, awkward, or anxious about making mistakes. That's OK; all will be welcome.                                                                                                                                                             We’ll work to create a safe space to explore and learn. It won’t be comfortable, but it will be important to engage anyway. Some of our colleagues have been much more than uncomfortable for a long time. The consequence of not engaging is that people remain wounded and disconnected, as my daughter Gracia says, we stay out of love.

If we move past our fears, suspend our assumptions, and approach each other with empathy and genuine interest in each other’s diversity, we can begin to heal. It starts with listening from the heart.

Special thanks to the June Human Workplace Meet Up Design Team: Regi Cuffee from DES, Ryan Leisinger from WaTech, Jeannie MacNab from King County, and Jessica Zinda from DSHS. Thank you to Jessica for offering the Listening from the Heart approach.