Inclusive Communication

Site: RRU Open Educational Resources
Course: OER-TMSWC: TeamsWork Moodle Course - Master Course
Book: Inclusive Communication
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Thursday, 6 August 2020, 12:01 AM


Welcome to Unit 3, Inclusive Communication. We chose to insert 'inclusive' into the title, due the importance of sharing information that every member of your team can understand. It requires you to recognize that your team members understand and express themselves in different ways, and working together to find a common language and understanding.

This unit is designed for you to consider and reflect on your personal style of communication and understand and build effective strategies for working with diverse communicators. Inclusive communication means active speaking and listening with every member of the team.

You will:

  • Establish preferred online communication platform for open and consistent communication
  • Practice inclusive communication between all team members, including mutual inquiry, effective questioning, reflective and active listening
  • Show commitment to the team’s purpose and goals
  • Establish and follow timeline for work to be completed independently and together as a team

Open & Assertive Communication

Open and assertive (assertive not to be mistaken for aggressive!) communication is a skill that is crucial in building strong relationships, a crucial component of powerful team performance. And it is often one hurdle that team members face. The quote by George Bernard Shaw says it perfects, "the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." The conversations that we avoid are often the ones that are most needed to find clarity, understanding and next steps. Keep reading, communication is an art and we will provide you with some tools and practice throughout the unit.

Communication begins with understanding your own perspective and the willingness to determine how the other person views a situation. Communication skills include the ability to listen and ask questions in order to clarify the message being communicated.

Successful communicators develop skills for sending and receiving information with minimal loss of meaning. Key skills include:

  • Engaging in open dialogue
  • Deep listening practices
  • Mutual Inquiry
  • Clarifying your own perspective and assumptions

As you read through the materials in this Unit on Inclusive Communication, consider your style of communication (your strengths and opportunities for growth).

Self Awareness and Regulation

In order for you to dive into conversations with others, we must get centered and clear on our intentions. This means starting to get honest and real with yourself!

The following are a few practices that help to bring your attention back to your body, breath and mind, so you can have a better understanding of inner dialogue and emotions.

Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, articulates this so well.

"All conversations are with myself, and sometimes they involve other people. This is incredibly important to understand. Embracing this insight changes the way we relate to and interact with everyone in our lives. I may think I see you are you are, but in truth, I see you as I am. The implications are staggering, and not the least of them is this: The issues in my life are rarely about you. They are almost always about me."

Practices for you to try out:

S.T.O.P Mindfulness
  1. STOP - Stop what you are doing. If you have anything in your hands, put it down. Turn away from distractions (phone, computer, etc.) Feel the posture of your boy, either standing or seated. If possible, take a seat and feel the support of the chair. If possible, close the eyes or take a soft gaze down.
  2. TAKE CONSCIOUS BREATHS - Take a few long, slow deep breaths. Pause for a moment at the top of your inhale and slowly exhale out your mouth. With each break out, relax any areas of tension. An option of placing one hand on your abdomen and follow the rising and falling for 5 deep breaths.
  3. OBSERVE NATURAL BREATH, THOUGHTS, EMOTIONS, SENSATIONS - Breathe and let go of any controlling or thinking about the breath. Observe your breath for a few cycles. Start to observe your thoughts, objectively, without pushing anything away or trying to make things happen. Scan your body, noticing what sensations is there without changing anything.
  4. PROCEED - Take a full conscious breaths and then proceed on with you next activity of your day with more clarity and balance and awareness.

Why am I talking?

  • Am I talking for approval and to be overly helpful? (Rescuer)
  • Am I talking to control and take charge of the situation? (Persecutor)
  • Am I talking to complain and whine about all I don’t like? (Victim)

Many of our behaviors are habitual and probably none more so than talking. Here are a few reflective questions to ask yourself before you leap into a conversation:

  • What is my intention behind what I am about to say?
  • Is there a question I could ask that would help me better understand what the other person is saying and perceiving?
  • How might I simply listen and let go of my urge to talk in this moment?

Effective Conversations

Have you ever been accused of "putting 2 and 2 together and making 5," meaning that the other person thinks you have jumped to the wrong conclusion?

Mind Tools explains, that in today’s fast-moving world, we are pressured to make quick decisions, rather than spending time to reason and think about true facts. This can cause conflict with other team mates, who may have different conclusions on the same subject.

It is important (at RRU and in the workplace) that your actions and decisions are founded on reality. Thus, when you challenge other people’s conclusions, you need to be confident that both your and their reasoning is firmly based on the true facts. This is where the 'Ladder of Inference' can help with achieving the facts. The Ladder of Inference, developed by organizational psychologist Chris Argyis and used by Peter Senge (also known as Process of Abstraction) can support your critical thinking, show you where you may get off track, and guide you back to facts and reality.

The Ladder of Inference

Ladder of Inference

Image retrieved from Mind Tools.

Starting at the bottom of the ladder, we have reality and facts and from there, we:

  • Experience these selectively based on our beliefs and prior experience.
  • Interpret what they mean.
  • Apply our existing assumptions, sometimes without considering them.
  • Draw conclusions based on the interpreted facts and our assumptions.
  • Develop beliefs based on these conclusions.
  • Take actions that seem "right" because they are based on what we believe.

Tips for Working with Ladder of Inference

Mind Tools has some excellent 'Tips' to implement the 'Ladder of Inference' in your decision making. We have captured them in the chart below.

Tip 1:

Ask reflective questions!

Use the Ladder of Inference at any stage of your thinking process.

Key Questions to Consider:

  • Is this the "right" conclusion?
  • Why am I making these assumptions?
  • Why do I think this is the "right" thing to do?
  • Is this really based on all the facts?
  • Why does he believe that?

Stop and identify where you are on the ladder! Once you see where you are at on the ladder, start asking yourself WHAT you are thinking and WHY. You may need to change your assumptions (or check them out in conversation!) or extend the field data you have selected.

More questions to consider:

  • Why have I chosen this course of action? Are there other actions I should have considered?
  • What beliefs lead to that action? Was it well-founded?
  • Why did I draw that conclusion? Is the conclusion sound?
  • What am I assuming, and why? Are my assumptions valid?
  • What data have I chosen to use and why? Have I selected data rigorously?
  • What are the real facts that I should be using? Are there other facts I should consider?
Tip 2:

Start to notice personal patterns!

When you are working through your reasoning, look out for rungs that you tend to jump.

Do you tend to make assumptions too easily? Do you tend to select only part of the data? Note you tendencies so that you can learn to do that stage of reasoning with extra care in the future.

As you start to see some patterns, you will develop a new sense of reasoning (a wider field of data and considered assumptions). Continue to move forward with each rung!

Tip 3:
Consult with a trusted friend or colleague

Try explaining your reasoning to a friend, coach, colleague (someone not on your team). This will help you check that your argument is sound.

If you are challenging someone else's conclusions, it is very important to be able to explain your reasoning so that you can explain it to that person in a way that helps you reach a shared conclusion and avoid conflict.

Watch this video, Rethinking thinking by Trevor Maber.

Additional Resources:

Hot Tips for Challenging Conversations

How Miscommunication Happens


The Ladder of Inference tips discussed strategies for you to become more clear on your personal beliefs, assumptions and judgments . Advocacy is a tool for making our thinking processes visible and more explicit to others. We can use the ladder of inference to support the process of laying out our reasoning and inviting others to examine or even challenge it. By being advocacy oriented, we are often more open to the influence of other perspectives, ideas, and insights.

Effective strategies to enhance Advocacy

  • Asserting "Here’s what I say and how I say it."
  • Explaining  "Here’s how I see the world and why I see it that way."
  • Testing "Here’s what I say. What do you think of it."

Dysfunctional strategies

  • Dictating  "Here’s what I say and never mind why."
  • Politicking  "I’m giving the impression of balancing advocacy."

Virtual Communication Tips

We live in a virtual world, so working online with your team can be equally effective if you take the time to build your team as you would in person. The information about the ladder of inference applies to any mode of communication; however you will especially need to consider your writing and comments in an online platform. We highly suggest that you have many opportunities for collaborative meetings, where you can see each other’s faces. Hearing and seeing each other can help to minimize assumptions of tone when we read messages.

Identify what communication platforms will work for your team’s needs. Do you want to see each other’s faces? Would you like to be able to record your meetings? Would you like to be able to use instant chat/text between meetings?

Different Communication:

Enjoy this article on Tips for Surviving Virtual Team Work

Curiosity & Inquiry

We can not emphasis this enough; being curious and inquisitive is the cornerstone of your team foundation. Inquiry is a tool for helping make our thinking processes more visible and more explicit to others. Being inquiry-oriented helps us to hear what others have to say, reduce our defensiveness, talk more openly, and enable us to more clearly appreciate multiple interpretations of events.

Effective strategies to enhance Inquiry

  • Sensing – "I'm watching the conversation flow without saying much but I’m being keenly aware of all that is transpiring."
  • Clarifying – "What is the question we are trying to answer."
  • Interviewing – "I’m exploring others’ points of view and the reasons behind them."
  • Bystanding – "I'm making observations pertaining to the group process but not to the actual content."

Dysfunctional strategies

  • Withdrawing – "I’ve mentally checked out of the room and not really paying attention."
  • Interrogating – "Can’t you see that your point of view is wrong?"

Enjoy these Additional Resources:

Ted Talks: Danger of a Single Story

Mutual Inquiry

Balancing Inquiry & Advocacy

Balancing advocacy and inquiry is a very important tool that increases our potential to learn in difficult or challenging situations, especially when a successful resolution is enhanced or even dependent on the full contribution of all team members. It enables us to gain more insight into other’s reasoning, build on multiple perspectives, and develop more creative solutions.

Through conversations with others, by balancing advocacy and inquiry, we can skillfully share our views with others and come to understand their assumptions and reasoning.

An imbalance between advocacy and inquiry can lead to dysfunctional conversations and ineffective group processes. Here are some helpful protocols for learning how to balance advocacy and inquiry:

Make your thinking process visible (walk up the ladder of influence slowly)
What to Do What to Say
State your assumptions, and describe the data that led to them. "Here’s what I think, and here’s how I got there."
Make your reasoning explicit "I came to this conclusion because..."

Explain the context of your point of view: who will be affected by what you propose, how they will be affected, and why.

Give examples of what you propose, even if they’re hypothetical or metaphorical.

"I'm proposing 'x' and I expect it will have the most impact on 'y' because...".

"To get a clear picture of what I’m talking about, imagine that you’re the customer who will be affected..."

As you speak, try to picture the other people’s perspectives on what you are saying "How are people reacting to what I’m saying?"


Test your conclusions and assumptions
What to Do What to Say
Encourage others to explore your model, your assumptions, and your data.

"What do you think about what I just said?" or “Do you see any flaws in my reasoning?" or "What can you add?"

Refrain from defensiveness when your ideas are questioned. If you’re advocating something worthwhile, then it will only get stronger by being tested. "Here’s what I’m proposing. Can you help me test out my reasoning?"

Reveal where you are least clear in your thinking.

Rather than making you vulnerable, it defuses the force of advocates who are opposed to you, and invites improvement.

"Here’s one aspect which you might help me think through..."

"I’m still working through this but here’s what I have so far..."

Even when advocating: listen, stay open, and encourage others to provide different views. "Do you see it differently?"


Ask others to make their thinking process visible
What to Do What to Say
Gently walk others down the ladder of inference and find out what data they are operating from.

"What leads you to conclude that?"

"What data do you have for that?"

"What causes you to say that?"

Use unaggressive language, particularly with people who are not familiar with these skills. Ask in a way which does not provoke defensiveness or "lead the witness."

Instead of "What do you mean?" or "What's your proof?" say, "Can you help me understand your thinking here?
Draw out their reasoning. Find out as much as you can about why they are saying what they’re saying.

"What is the significance of that?"

"How does this relate to your other concerns?"

"Where does your reasoning go next?"

Explain your reasons for inquiring, and how your inquiry relates to your own concerns, hopes, and needs. "I’m asking you about your assumptions here because..."


Keeping the thinking process visible when there are different points of view
What to Do What to Say
Again, inquire about what has led the person to that view.

"How did you arrive at this view?"

"Are you taking into account data that I have not considered?"

Make sure you truly understand the view. "If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that..."
Explore, listen, and offer your own views in an open way. "Have you considered..."

Listen for the larger meaning that may come out of honest, open sharing of alternative mental models.

Use your deep listening skills.

[See Deep Listening tool description]
Share inferences or assumptions out-loud. "When you say such-and-such, I worry that it means..."
Raise your concerns and state what is leading you to have them. "I have a hard time seeing that, because of this reasoning..."

Adapted from Senge et al (1994).

Effective Discussion

The tool of skillful discussion is intended to help your team come to some sort of closure – reach agreement, make a decision, identify priorities, or take actions. Skillful discussion uses many of the other tools in this unit to productively generate important conclusions, decisions, or plans.

Senge et al (1994) suggests that the following five protocols can help groups engage in effective skillful discussion:

Pay attention to your intentions!

Ask yourself:

  • "What is my intention here?"
  • "What do I want from this process?"
  • "Am I willing to be influenced?"

Balance Advocacy and Inquiry – Avoid trying to "win over" or "one-upping" others in the course of deciding on the most effective decisions to make.

Ask yourself:

  • "What led you to this view?"
  • "What do you mean by that view?"

Build shared meaning – explore how to arrive at common understandings of what key concepts mean.

Ask yourself:

  • "When we use the term 'x', what are we really saying?"

Use self-awareness as a resource – especially when confused, angry, unsettled, frustrated, or troubled.

Ask yourself:

  • "What am I thinking?"
  • "What am I feeling?"
  • "What do I want at this moment?"

Explore impasses

Ask yourself:

  • "What do we agree on?"
  • "What do we disagree on?"
  • "Can we pinpoint the source of the disagreement or impasse?"

Active Listening

We are living in a heightened technology connected world, which has many positives, however it can sometimes cause us to not be as engaged and present in real time! Have you ever been part of an important conversation with someone and they are looking at their phone, as they are 'listening' to you? How did that make you feel? There definitely is a difference between active and passive listening! We can agree that active and deep listening takes practice; teams excel when they commit to mindful listening!

Deep listening occurs when we feel zoned into another person’s thoughts and feelings as well as our own. Mindful listening can only happen when we have created mental space that is free from distractions, judgements, hasty interpretations, assumptions and pre-emptive conclusion. When we are deep listening, we are feeling highly receptive to the essence of meaning from our conversations with others. We are feeling interested, quietly engaged, focused, and open to being influenced.

When we are zoned in, it should feel effortless and not forced. As Bailey (2007) indicated, "we aren’t analyzing or figuring out - we are simply letting the feelings and sounds affect us. Deep listening is not defensive, argumentative, or intrusive. It is not about struggling to analyze or interpret. It is a purely receptive state of mind."

When we listen deeply, we let go of any beliefs we have about the other person. We let go of our prejudices and past memories of him and her and hold space for the person speaking.

When we listen deeply, we let go of any beliefs we have about the other person. We let go of our prejudices and past memories of him or her.

Here are some tips on how to listen deeply from Senge et al (1994):

  • Stop talking: Learn to still the voice within.
  • Visualize the other person’s viewpoint.
  • Look, act, and be interested.
  • Don’t interrupt. Be quiet past your tolerance level.
  • Speak only affirmatively when listening. Avoid evaluative or critical comments.
  • Periodically and when appropriate, rephrase key points in the conversation.

Listen to William Ury discuss the The Art of Listening

Diversity & Cross Cultural Communication

It was intentional leaving 'Diversity and Cross Cultural Communication' at the end of the booklet, because once you learn and practice meaningful conversations, dialogue and active listening, it will enhance any team regardless of diversity. RRU embraces and celebrates diversity, please see diversity statement here and we have expectations that you and your team respect and learn to work collaboratively together.

Diversity enriches team development. Learning to effectively collaborate with such a diverse population is a key element for team success. There is richness in varying perspectives, experiences and learning styles.

Having awareness of different cultural perspectives will help the development of your team. With an awareness of cultural dimensions you are better able to navigate cultural differences on your team and plan and communicate accordingly.

Tips for cross cultural communication.

Tips for Great Discussion

  • Create a safe haven for participants.
  • Make openness and trust the rule rather than the exception.
  • Encourage, acknowledge, and reward the introduction of new perspectives.
  • Plan the agenda to allow time for concentrated deliberation.
  • Keep distractions to a minimum.

Impasses are often rich and fertile ground for facilitating breakthroughs. Sources of disagreement often fall into one or more of the following categories:

Facts — What did we observe? What happened? What is the 'data'?

Methods — How should we do what we need to do? What processes or approaches should we use?

Goals — What are trying to do? What is the end result we’re trying to achieve?

Values — Why do we believe it must be done in a particular way?

How do you learn effectively from impasses? Try the following:

  • Listen to ideas as if for the first time.
  • Work at being open to new ideas or revisiting ideas already presented.
  • Consider each other’s mental model as one piece of a larger puzzle. Look at the issue from the
  • other person’s perspective. Try to find connections between the different models or work with
  • the group to develop a new model.
  • Ask yourself and others: “What do we need to do to move forward?”


Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R.B., & Smith, B.J. (1994). The fifth discipline fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization. New York: Doubleday.