Cultivating Inclusion Through Curiosity: 7 Tactics for Leaders

By TERRA Staffing Group

Posted on December 27, 2023


Image of Scattered dice with question marks

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training programs can play a crucial role in fostering inclusivity. The good news is that DEI doesn’t have to be an extensive undertaking.    

There are small, daily actions leaders can take to gain a better understanding of their teams’ diverse needs and ways of working. And it all starts with being curious.  

Below, we provide simple strategies for leaders to promote inclusivity through embracing curiosity. 

Create a safe space for people to share their thoughts.

Some people find it challenging to speak up in a group setting or prefer not to. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have ideas to share.   

Encourage more diversity of thought by reflecting on the week together, both in team settings and through individual one-on-one meetings. Ask your team to share their wins and their challenges. Embrace new ways of doing things and encourage employees to test out their ideas. 

When leaders establish a safe environment for everyone to share ideas, it can boost confidence and enhance their sense of capability and trustworthiness. And more diverse viewpoints can lead to smarter decision-making and problem-solving. 

Listen without judgment.

When people feel judged, or are fearful of being judged, they are less likely to share who they are and their ideas.  

But how do you listen without judgment?  

According to Hal Halladay, CEO and Founder of Breakthrough Leadership, the antidote to judgment is a simple phrase: “Tell me more.”  

By saying, “Tell me more,” you’re expressing curiosity, not judgment. It shows employees that you’re interested in learning more about them and their ideas. Not only does it help foster a safer, more comfortable work environment, it helps strengthen communication—and leads to better understanding. 

Admit when you’re wrong.

For better or worse, leaders set the tone for their team.  

A leader’s ability to acknowledge their mistakes not only reveals strong accountability but also brings a human touch to their leadership style. This sets the stage for the team and creates a culture where people feel safe to make mistakes and take ownership. 

And it can inspire a culture of continuous improvement where people proactively seek better ways of doing things.  

Team members may even be more likely to take calculated risks and propose new ideas when they see that mistakes are treated as opportunities to learn and improve. 

Be a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all.

Employees may be less likely to share ideas when they feel their leader knows “everything.” 

As a leader, being vulnerable and open about what you don’t know creates opportunities for others to step up and bring their unique skills and insights to the team.  

Ask employees for their take on something you completed, or for help completing a task. There may be something your team can teach you. 

Learning from employees demonstrates that diversity of ideas is welcome, and that there’s room for everyone at the table.  

And it can identify opportunities for skill development, either across the team or for a team member, contributing to collective growth and development. 

Be aware of the impact of your questions.

In a position of leadership, what you might think of as a simple question could be perceived as a question of trust in competence. People may only hear the question, not your intention behind the question.  

Frame questions in a way that expresses a genuine curiosity and desire to understand how someone is thinking.  

Provide context or a reason for your inquiry to show employees the goal of the question. It’ll help them get into the right mindset and their response may be more honest and constructive.  

By doing that, you’re not only helping someone not feel judged, but also helping them reflect and grow. And you’re getting an inside look into how that person thinks. 

Ask questions when you’re upset.

When there is conflict, people usually want to prove that they are right. 

But as a leader, if you approach conflict or moments of frustration with curiosity and ask questions, it can get people out of flight-or-fight mode and eliminate any assumptions you may have.  

Show employees that you want to understand them better. And that even in emotionally charged situations, it’s okay to seek clarification and gather information. 

You’ll learn more about an employee’s thought process and why conflict occurred, leading to more trust and compassion. 

Speak last in meetings.

Leaders who speak first or the most can influence the opinions of others in the room. By speaking last in meetings or letting others facilitate, you’re including everyone else and increasing engagement. 

It can help prevent groupthink and reinforce the idea that sharing and team collaboration is not just welcome—it’s encouraged. 

When people know their leader is curious and interested in what they have to say, it empowers team members to speak up and there will be more diverse input.  

Employees may be more likely to build off of each other’s ideas and come up with innovative solutions without the interference or guidance of the leader. 

Embracing curiosity is how leaders can create an environment where people are free to be themselves at work.  

When employees know there is room for them at the table, they can see themselves at every level of the organization—and will have a stronger motivation to succeed. And that’s what DEI is all about.  

In a recent HR HotSpot webinar, Hal Halladay shared ways curious leaders can build a more inclusive workplace.  

During the webinar, Hal discussed teachable moments for leaders and the significant impact that leaders who practice curiosity can make.  

Interested in learning more about practicing curiosity? Watch the full video here.  

If you’re looking for more employer resources on effective leadership, be sure to check out our Employer Resource Center. We have an archive of on-demand HR webinars, tools and articles to help you navigate various workplace challenges. 

Categories: HR and Management Advice

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