The Importance of Inclusive Communication

17 June 2024
Employee Wellbeing, Knowledge, AI in DEI

Fostering Respect, Collaboration, and Innovation in the Modern Workplace

 

In the past two decades, the amount of time that people spend on collaborative activities has ballooned at least 50% [HBR]. With 84% of people being matrixed across multiple teams it will come as a surprise to nobody that effective workplace communication is essential. Employees and leaders agree that effective communication boosts individual performance, and research by McKinsey & Company highlights that organizations prioritizing collaborative work practices are five times more likely to be high performing.

As teams become more diverse and geographically dispersed, effective communication becomes essential to ensure not just alignment, cohesion, and productivity – but just the basic functioning of a team of people working together.

How we communicate, then, will have a major impact on both our workplace experience and our outcomes. The impact of rude and disrespectful communication can be both devastating and far reaching – it has been well understood, for a long time, that incivility can lead to decreased job satisfaction, lower productivity, and increased turnover intentions. There can be terrible personal impacts on individual health and wellbeing. And worse, rudeness spreads like a disease – the more people observe this sort of behaviour, the more likely they are to replicate it themselves. Women and people in non-dominant social groups tend to bear the worst of it.

And this doesn’t even take into account the huge litigation costs – the average harassment lawsuit costs $250,000 to defend; and the average jury award is $600,000. Hundreds of billions are spent every year.

Conversely, respectful and inclusive communication has a profound positive impact on individual and team performance. According to research by Gallup,

employees who feel their opinions are valued are 4.6 times more likely to perform at their best.

Inclusive communication encourages active listening, empathy, and constructive feedback, creating a supportive environment where individuals feel empowered to contribute their unique perspectives. This, in turn, leads to higher levels of creativity, innovation, and problem-solving capabilities within the team.

As such, inclusive communication is not just a nice-to-have; it is a fundamental component of a successful and sustainable workplace. As organisations increasingly rely on collaboration to drive success, the importance of fostering respectful and inclusive communication cannot be overstated.

Here are some things you can ask yourself to consider whether your organisation is in the best position to create a culture of inclusive communication:

  • Does leadership role model respectful, transparent and open communication?
  • Do people know how (and are they able to) to stand up and speak out when they observe rude communication?
  • Do we provide training on inclusive communication and engaging with diverse communication styles?
  • Do we monitor the workplace for instances of harmful communication?
  • Have we created a culture of regular and open two-way feedback?
  • Do leaders know how to leverage diverse voices and inputs in decision making?

As we recognise the importance of inclusive communication, it’s essential to explore how advanced technology, particularly AI, can assist in creating respectful and productive workplaces.

New research shows clear that AI tools are very effective in promoting positive language and helping conversation partners perceive each other as close and more cooperative. On the flip side people have a very negative reaction when they think their partner is using AI to write responses for them.

The true power of AI, then, lies in its ability to continuously coach people to communicate better, not communicate on their behalf.

Imagine a workplace where harmful language is detected in real-time, and people receive immediate, personalised feedback, promoting self-reflection and a shift towards more positive and inclusive language. AI makes this possible by being an “always-on” communication coach that monitors how people interact on digital platforms and giving helpful, timely advice. But, we need to stop short of telling people exactly what to say or writing responses for them, otherwise we will just end up with two AIs talking to each other!

In essence, when correctly implemented, AI can be an invaluable ally in fostering a culture of inclusive communication, preventing costly communication errors, and helping organisations build environments where every individual feels valued and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives.