How to actually break the ice and grow together through the art of conversation.

From young adulthood to old age, the average person spends around 90,000 hours at work. That’s one-third of our entire lives. Unsurprisingly, how we feel about this work and our ability to show up each day as an authentic version of ourselves impacts our happiness, relationships, and even how empowered we feel to drive change in our day to day lives.

As we see through every story that’s shared by our community, we live in a beautifully diverse world - even across the most tight-knit families and communities, no two lived experiences are the exact same. But when it comes to our jobs, the unique cultural, familial, and individual differences that make us “us” have traditionally taken the backseat to conformity and a culture of silence. In this scenario, we all lose out. When led with care, conversations around differences can bring more genuine diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into the workplace - and this is a strength that enriches not only our well-being as individuals, but also the world we create for future generations.

Conversations with big impacts

When diverse perspectives are welcomed at the water cooler and in our boardrooms, we all benefit. For those who come from historically marginalized communities and identities, for instance, meaningful DEI initiatives at work are inextricably tied to mental health outcomes. Research further shows that companies with DEI teams are 22 percent more likely to be perceived as “industry leaders,” and a vast majority of job-seekers hope to work for companies that value DEI. 

Yet on a whole, there tends to be a “perception gap” between leadership and employees when it comes to how inclusive they really are. Leaders tend to view the workplace through rose-coloured glasses - 98 percent report that their employees feel included - while around 20 percent of employees report a lack of inclusivity. The impact of this gap shows up in the numbers, where an estimated $1.05 trillion in potential profits are missed out on. On the flip side, companies that invest in closing the perception gap have been shown to hold more growth potential and “change power” in uncertain times, as these workplaces inspire greater collaboration and innovation across teams.

It comes as no surprise to us that when people are allowed to show up authentically and connect on a deeper level at work, professional and personal outcomes flourish. But in many companies, the hard part is just getting started! For anyone seeking to inspire more open conversations at work, here’s a few tips to get the ball rolling:

1. Invite leaders and experts to the table

Company culture starts with leadership - this means that getting their buy-in as change makers can be key. Almost two-thirds of today’s leaders report a desire to prioritize their employee’s mental health, yet many feel they’re lacking in resources to do so in a meaningful way. Be prepared to work together and bring some ideas to the table - keeping in mind that effective DEI calls for solutions that won’t make anyone feel left out or forced into a box where they have to pretend to be something they’re not. To strike this careful balance, a great first step is to seek out experts and resources that will help your company navigate conversations in a way that is sensitive to an array of lived experiences.

 2. Go into conversations with an open mind

Do a quick check on how you’re feeling as you enter into conversations around differences, family, and culture. Do you hold any assumptions that will make it difficult to take in another person’s story? Try approaching conversations with curiosity and, importantly, assume that your colleagues are equally eager to learn from your story and grow. A positive mindset sets the stage for mutual openness and respect. Cultivating humility also fosters an understanding that none of us possess the “full story” of another’s life, encouraging more genuine responses and empathy

3. Keep the conversations going

As easy as it is to share small pieces of ourselves in a single sitting, the questions asked during traditional “ice breaker” activities at work rarely scratch the surface of our life story -  and with a rise in remote work, the social interactions we do have with colleagues are all the more important for building happier, productive teams.

Every life story is multifaceted with valuable lessons to impart, but learning is a marathon, not a sprint. Consider returning to these important conversations as an ongoing team activity. When we give each other opportunities to paint a fuller picture of where we’re coming from, we also have a better chance of “seeing” each other on a deeper level. From there, stronger working relationships can also begin to bloom as we pave new paths forward.


Are you looking for ways to spark more conversations at your own workplace? To get you started, we’re rolling out a Workplace Conversation Cards deck. Created in consult with experts, these cards will help you actually “break the ice” and dig deeper into personal, cultural, and family stories in a meaningful and accessible way.

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