Speak to Lead: Harness the Power of Inclusive Communication

Inclusive Communication is the cornerstone of adaptive leadership and a skill that can be learned through training by STEERus

By Loralyn & Amrit


Speak to lead – learn how to harness the power of inclusive communication. Don’t twist like a pretzel when it comes to diversity. It doesn’t need to be a lightning rod. Break it down into what it really is rather than flitting left or right towards a nebulous end game: simply treat humans like humans. Accept that we are all different and that’s what makes us human and interesting.


The Trickiness of Inclusive Communication Explained

Inclusion isn’t a woke phenomenon that only the “left” leans into. It’s real; very real if you take a close look at the balance sheets of the biggest companies in the USA. Per McKinsey, companies with at least one-third of executive positions held by women outperform their male-dominated counterparts by 48%. But here’s the kicker: the spirit of diversity needs a conductor to harness all those differences in experience and perspective — enter adaptive leadership and the power of inclusive communication.

Getting that balance right is tricky. It’s not just about crafting an inclusive team by design; it’s about amplifying performance through adaptive leadership that flexes to meet the team where they are but bends everyone together in a new direction that moves the needle forward. Inclusive communication is the magic wand that lets leaders truly connect with their teams. Doing so requires attunement through emotional intelligence, attentive listening to understand, and genuinely fostering unbiased input. Note that we didn’t say unfiltered input – setting boundaries so that your team puts respect for differences into the core of all they say and do is essential to team harmony and productivity.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. ~George Bernard Shaw, Nobel Prize-winning playwright

Inclusive Communication is an Art Form and Special Skill

How do you master inclusive communication? You do so by openly valuing the differences and similarities among team members, customers, and stakeholders. And you pause long enough to listen and absorb what’s being said. Let it land so that you can dial into stereotypes, biases, and assumptions that are often the byproduct of “group thinking” because these can be the roadblocks to forward progress.

Leaders across industries aspire to be inclusive, but here’s the plot twist: inclusion cannot be limited to a mission statement or corporate goal. It must be rooted in the everyday language in use. Harvard Business Review “spills the tea” on how to do it and why it matters: adaptive leaders tailor their language 36% more because they are consciously adapting to the needs and demographics of their audience. That is, by definition, inclusive communication.

Adaptive leaders, as it turns out, are language chameleons. They understand that recognizing and celebrating diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and identities is important. These leaders look beyond skin color and artfully hunt for why someone has formed the opinion that they have and why it is different from their teammate’s viewpoint. Everyone is wrapped around the axel when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). Many people have lost the plot – and the point – of what really matters.


Let’s Cut to the Chase: How to do it

Becoming an adaptive leader artfully skilled at inclusive communication takes time. You need to understand your audience, tweak your language, and make your anecdotes relatable. Inclusive communicators showcase traits like acknowledging bias, embracing diverse opinions, adapting communication styles, fostering collaboration, and celebrating diversity in all its forms – not just skin color.

People are bent out of shape about pronouns and throw their arms in the air. It’s not that hard. Inclusive communication is a two-way street and if you get a pronoun wrong, the person referenced needs to show grace and offer a correction. If the person continues to deliberately guffaw on the preferred pronouns, that is hostile, bias behavior that needs to be corrected.

Effective leadership is a journey, not a destination. Inclusive communication is the North Star that will help transform your teams from dysfunctional to performing and overhaul your toxic workplace into a beehive of productivity. Embrace honesty, transparency, and regular communication for trust and unity. Celebrate diversity, make inclusive decisions, lead by example, and never stop learning. Inclusive communication isn’t just a cornerstone; it’s the essence of effective leadership and your own personal ticket to promotion!


What Would MacGyver do? Okay – What do Adaptive Leaders do?

Adaptive leaders rock these five (5) traits:

  1. Spot and own bias: they acknowledge the problem to find a solution. Adaptive leaders value inclusive communication and its nuances in all its forms—spoken, written, or visual.
  2. Dig diverse opinions: they understand that folks have different takes and that there are multiple paths that can lead to the goal destination. And they stay curious.
  3. Flex communication styles: they know people have preferences. Adaptive leaders bend like bamboo and flex to provide supporting assistive tech for speech-impaired team members when they recognize that it’s needed.
  4. Foster teamwork: they actively seek input and feedback; they value diverse perspectives. And they stamp out exclusion or discrimination pronto making the consequences of bad behavior clear.
  5. Celebrate diversity: they recognize, highlight, and celebrate diversity efforts. The important thing here is to recognize that it’s an evolving concept that adaptive leaders embrace.

To embrace inclusive communication:

  • Embrace gender-neutral talk. Use they/them instead of him or her. Pick “person” over man or woman. Swap “mankind” for “humanity.”
  • Accept that not every workplace digs gender neutrality, but it harms no one. Be cool with language for all and experiment until you find the vibe that’s right for your team.
  • Adopt an inclusive language guide. Respect backgrounds, gender identities, and abilities. Check the AP Stylebook for gender-neutral tips.
  • Tech’s got your back. Grammar checkers like Textio and Sapling AI spot biases. Hemingway Editor simplifies complex text.
  • Accessibility is key. Braille, large print, audio — offer options. Visual tools like infographics make complex data easy to digest. Speech-to-text tools can help those who struggle with reading.

Adaptive Leadership truths:

  • Openly acknowledge the importance of inclusive communication.
  • Create a psychologically safe environment so that everyone can thrive.
  • Understand that commitment and courage are non-negotiable: you need to commit to change and recognize that it may not be easy.
  • Honesty and vulnerability are not buzz words, they are core to the philosophy of adaptive leadership and inclusive communication.

Inclusive communication is the cornerstone of adaptive leadership. Authenticity and openness build trust. Critique fuels growth. Inclusive decisions mean shared ownership. Lead by example. Never stop learning. And if you or your team needs a little nudge towards adaptive leadership and how to harness the power of inclusive communication, STEERus is here with our training and professional development programs.

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