Inclusion Happens Non-Verbally Too

hands clasped

Creating inclusive environments is easier said than done, and there lies the issue. Just because we may speak with inclusivity does not mean it’s felt, and those feelings may stem from non-verbal communication.

The 7% Rule, as established by Albert Mehrabian, suggests that communication is only 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal. Further, the non-verbal element consists of tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%). Regardless, as suggested by Philip Yaffe, author of The Gettysburg Approach to Writing and Speaking like a Professional (2010), consider asking this question: Is the inclusivity authentic?

Before inclusion can happen, one must understand the extent of their ignorance and be open to understanding what they do not know (i.e., differing cultures and backgrounds). If knowledgeable, one should theoretically be able to generate inclusion in the classroom, workplace or other environments with a diverse group of individuals. But how can we ensure that what we preach is also felt?

Jesse Krohn, associate director, Education and Prevention at Drexel University, provides the following advice about how to be successful in fostering inclusion in the workplace that can also be applied across a plethora of environments. One of the most powerful suggestions she offers is to embrace change. Simple right? How about when the greetings are different? For example, when someone would prefer to “dap you up” as opposed to “shake your hand?” How about when a colleague throws in a word spoken in their native language? Examine how you react to these situations. Do you ask what they are saying, or inquire about greeting styles and what it means to the individual? Or do you resort to something neutral because it’s comfortable? While situational analysis is important, being able to sincerely inquire, understand and adapt may lead to less-pressured inclusivity when around people of different backgrounds.

According to Krohn, listening without being defensive is imperative to fostering inclusion. Empathy is key to inclusivity, as it is difficult to place yourself in someone’s shoes without actively listening and seeking to understand the message. According to author Harriet Learner, two critical steps in curbing defensiveness are to ask for specifics and to find something to agree with. When listening with a keen ear, piggy-backing off of a statement a colleague made and asking for further elaboration makes them aware that you are listening to understand and are making an effort to include their thoughts and opinions. Identifying commonalities leads to additional collaboration and creates a relatable environment in which each member feels included and connected regardless of apparent differences.

While it is clear that fostering inclusivity generally stems from verbal communication, one should note that actions, more often than not, speak louder than words. For us to embrace change, we have to be open to it, both mentally and physically. Inquire about differences and meet people where they are most comfortable in order for both worlds to positively collide. When the conversation begins, physically position yourself in such a way that shows your openness, actively listen, respond with curiosity to their statements, seek commonalities and make others feel as if you are the premier person to interact with because of how approachable you are.

This, in essence, is how we can make inclusivity sincerely felt.

Yoel Griffin is a junior majoring in human resource management in the Poole College of Management and an intern in the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.