In early 2017, General Mills tried something new to reduce the deep divide in American society that the 2016 election had exposed. The consumer foods brand started Courageous Conversations, a series of events that consist of a presentation by an external speaker and a small group dialogue facilitated by an employee trained to keep interactions constructive. These conversations dive into the sensitive issues that most organizations encourage workers to tiptoe around: Islamophobia, immigration policy, police brutality, Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ movement, for example. How did this brave experiment go?
Five years of Courageous Conversations, held seemingly everywhere from manufacturing plants to online forums, suggests that it is possible to organize civil and productive workplace dialogue around divisive issues. The first Courageous Conversation attracted a few dozen participants. Now they attract hundreds. Employees report increased levels of understanding and empathy for other groups. They also say that the techniques learned through Courageous Conversations have helped them improve relationships outside of work, including with family.
Following are resources for companies looking to facilitate team-member conversations that reduce divisiveness:
In summary, it appears that corporate leaders don’t have to feel helpless around the blue-red conflict that’s tearing apart workplaces and communities. On the contrary, every company can play a role in healing America's painful and dangerous divide.