Tough Conversations Require Executive Presence

You are probably facing some difficult conversations at work regarding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). If not, you should be. Now is the time.  

Entering these uncomfortable discussions requires the first rule of executive presence, Know Your Audience. Knowing your audience means that you are able to communicate the necessary messages without ruffling feathers. You know the audience well enough that you can speak to their fears with compassion and speak into their biases with no judgment. Not knowing your audience brings the risk of not being heard, which results in not helping yourself or others.

Listen up – before you walk in or phone or zoom into any of these conversations consider the following:

1 – Think about the receptivity of those in attendance. 

  • Are they old school and close minded?
  • Are they defensive?
  • Are they kind but very sensitive?
  • Do they think they are colorblind but they aren’t?
  • Is there someone who will back you?

2 – Check in with yourself.  

  • Are you feeling too angry to speak?
  • Are you too emotional and need time to retreat?
  • Are you feeling rushed and pressured into this?
  • Do you fear telling your truth at work?

3 – Get to a higher place  – above your initial feelings and into your wisdom.

  • You may need to exercise -take a run or engage in any form of exercise that helps to cool your system down.
  • Meditation can also help.
  • Try journaling, writing your thoughts out.
  • Talking to a professional or an experienced facilitator can help. 

4 – Communicate from a place of clear, refined messaging.

  • Think about what people can hear, not what you want them to hear.
  • Carefully choose your words to move the conversation forward, instead of using words that generate conflict.
  • Listen and watch for reactions; if your tone or words are not working, change your tactic.
  • Don’t blame, don’t accuse and don’t point fingers. 
  • Listen with compassion. 

As you embark on difficult conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion, you may be experiencing all kinds of emotions like anger, fear, dread, and exhaustion. But, as long as you are willing to tackle these issues, you can bring about necessary, long-awaited change. Let us know how you are doing, and if we can help.

Kathi Elster – Executive Coach and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at for any further help around this topic.