“We have to talk.” Does that phrase raise your blood pressure? It likely makes your workforce nervous. Many employees are avoiding at least one tough — but necessary — professional conversation and require upskilling on soft skills like conflict avoidance. The good news? CoachHub’s “People Development for Business Growth” survey found that 95% of learning and development (L&D) decision makers expect increasing training and development budgets, meaning that this training may soon be within reach.

But what sort of difficult conversations are we all avoiding? One crucial conversation could involve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issues. After all, more than three-quarters (76%) of companies don’t have any substantive DEI initiatives.

The prevalence of issue avoidance and the large percentage of weak DEI programs could cause employees to suffer in silence. Are your employees feeling stereotyped or misunderstood based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or other differences? Does your workplace welcome diversity? Is the culture inclusive? You may not know the answers to these questions…until it’s too late. A Crucial Learning poll shows that one in four people let their work-based problems simmer for six months before confronting them. As if that wasn’t concerning enough, one in 10 employees avoid the conversation for a full year, and an additional one in 10 prolong confrontation for two long years.

That’s a lot of long-festering problems, and those issues can carry heavy consequences for both your employees and the bottom line.

Unspoken Issues Cost Cash

What’s the harm in unresolved employee issues for your businesses? As it turns out, quite a lot.

You likely already know that DEI training initiatives can promote acceptance, respect, collaboration and even lift the bottom line. You also understand the truly disastrous consequences if DEI goes wrong.

But do you know the cost of unspoken problems? According to a U.K.-based study by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), the cost of unresolved workplace issues piles up:

  • 40% of employees dealing with workplace conflict feel less motivated, while 56% are stressed, anxious and/or depressed.
  • Nearly 900,000 employees take sick time to avoid uncomfortable professional situations.
  • An average of 485,800 people leave jobs due to workplace problems.
  • Employers spend $42.2 billion per year on unresolved work-related issues.

Of course, remote work can exacerbate misunderstandings — DEI misunderstandings included. With fewer in-person, face-to-face interactions, communication among team members and leaders can be a challenge. Misunderstandings emerge, and resentments can build. Nuances can become muddled. Body language is harder to read. And, if bothersome issues surface, people can become more isolated rather than seek to engage in conversations to resolve the problem.  How can your workforce improve its communication skills to tackle sometimes daunting DEI conversations?

Prepare for Hard DEI Conversations With Coaching

If you’re like many employees and managers, you may feel scared to confront issues at work, and DEI issues can feel particularly sensitive. People may feel awkward, fear being misunderstood or anticipate professional backlash. And most don’t get communications or DEI-specific training. In fact, three-quarters (75%) of companies don’t have DEI as part of their learning and development curricula.

It’s no surprise that your workforce may need help navigating DEI challenges and developing the communications skills necessary to speak up.

Personalized coaching can fill this gap.

One-on-one personalized coaching helps your workforce get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Certified coaches can challenge people at all career levels to adopt new perspectives on differences like neurodiversity, race and innate abilities. This openness to behavior change is just one of the soft skills coaching can build to broaden empathy and understanding.

As companies modernize to assume robust DEI initiatives and create a culture of allyship, coaches can help ensure your employees adapt to the new culture with resilience and understanding. On the management side, a coach can help your leaders commit to positive change and build a psychologically safe culture where everyone feels comfortable expressing opinions and embracing each other’s individuality.

Coaching also prepares your employees and managers for those crucial “we have to talk” conversations that can push positive change. Coaches use various techniques — role playing, asynchronous exercises and challenging behavior patterns — to empower people to voice their concerns or receive feedback.

Even in a remote environment, your employees can learn to implement strategies that keep those tough conversations proactive and productive. Coaching can teach effective communication skills like stressing facts over emotions, exercising compassion and acknowledging mistakes. Those are just some of the reasons why a majority (77%) of L&D decision makers say there is a greater need to train and develop employees now than before the pandemic.

The coaching industry itself is having uncomfortable but crucial conversations about its lack of diversity and inclusion. Because many employees who seek coaching are from marginalized groups, it’s critical that the coaching industry itself is diverse so that coaches can better relate to and advise their coachees. However, currently, 69.8% of career coaches are white. Speaking up about DEI, within the coaching industry itself, can help shed light on this disparity.

Is creating more inclusive workplaces challenging? Absolutely. But as coaches — and with coaching — we can have honest, fact-based conversations that address DEI issues and deliver real and lasting change.

Few people delight in “we have to talk” conversations. But coaching can help people deliver and receive those difficult conversations and help entire industries reckon with their past to pursue a more diverse, equitable and inclusive future.