Common Humanity in the Workplace: Starting the Conversation

Posted by Joel Bennett on

By Faith Sanders, OWLS Staff.
Regardless of where you work, your workplace can be a springboard for deepening the sense of common humanity in society-at-large. Are you practicing common humanity at work?

Common Humanity is our understanding that many things connect us as a human race. Connection that transcends skin tone, geography, gender identity, values, religion, and socioeconomic status. In the workplace, the connection should also transcend job function, job level or management status, tenure or seniority, or anything else that may seemingly make us different. Embracing our common humanity – especially in the workplace – could help with many problems. However, our culture and media predominantly reinforce humanity’s ‘survival of the fittest’ or dominance instinct; messages that separate us from our understanding of our place as earthly citizens.

In today’s workplace, implicit bias runs rampant as it relates to racial, ethnic, gender and age differences (among others). This implicit bias leads to workplace discrimination, a culture of mistrust and inequity, and psychological stress, all of which have a cost.

IMPLICIT BIAS: the psychological phenomena of bias against or for a particular group of people that is relatively unconscious and outside one’s self-awareness.  The work culture is a microcosm of society.  As such, let’s consider the workplace (your workplace) as a springboard for broader, societal change. As a reflection of society, workplace leadership can change cultural norms and model what is and is not acceptable in the treatment co-workers.  How often do you experience conversations or behaviors at work that communicate separation versus commonality? Gossip, ignoring others, and sarcasm may seem less severe than verbal abuse, harassment, or bullying, but implicit bias can show up in subtle forms of prejudice, discrimination, and micro-aggressions.  Below are some considerations for how to start thinking about common humanity in the context of the work culture.


Our understanding of common humanity cannot be fully embodied until one spends time bringing their “unconscious” or implicit bias to their own awareness.  Reflect on difficult or conflictful conversations you have had or seen at work. You can do this through writing, reading, or simply opening dialogue with friends or family. It’s easy to point the finger to external factors in the workplace and “blame” others for our behavior. Starting with the self requires us to ask ourselves these questions:

    • Do I have a blaming tone or emotional reactivity with others at work?
    • How do I maintain a calm or neutral style when communicating my own needs and requests?
    • How do I enable (tolerate, minimize, rationalize) blaming or discriminating behavior in my co-workers?
    • Are there ways that I perpetuate divisive dialogue?
    • What can I do to help my co-workers understand that I respect them?

      Each of us are leaders. And those in actual leadership or management positions often set the tone for how we bring out our own leadership at work. Basic learning theory underlines the power of social or role modeling as a motivating factor for change. Do you see common humanity being expressed by leaders? Do they encourage unity, compassion, and breaking down walls due to discrimination or stigma? If so, great! If not, consider what you can do.  After have spent time reflecting on the above “It Starts with Self” questions, the next step is to embody change through action. Speaking up (instead of being only a bystander) when we notice implicit bias in others, asking for feedback from co-workers, and holding consistent multi-cultural competence forums are great tools for starting to model change. There are many tools you can suggest to leaders to promote positive and unifying dialogue in the workplace. Consider appreciative inquiry or mindful communication for starters. Also, my company ( OWLS) uses various team awareness, team resilience, and workshops to promote positive dialogue.


        “Holding the mirror up” can be a painful thing, often because we are afraid of what we might see. We fear our own implicit biases because there is self-judgment in them. We think, “If I have these thoughts or assumptions about this group of people, what does that mean about me?” This is where the practice of self-compassion comes in. If we can identify our internal critic and meet him/her with kindness and compassion, we open ourselves up to the potential to change. If we understand the implicit bias we hold is a result of modeling and evolutionary factors and not completely born of choice, we are less likely to react to our own biases with shame and guilt and therefore seek to change them.  Listening to our internal voice with curiosity, but not judgement lends us to listen to the voices of others with curiosity and not judgement. This leads back to the idea that greater change starts with the self.


          There is no ONE solution to implicit bias in the workplace. Building a culture of common humanity in the workplace is a process, not a single event. This brings to light the importance of consistent training, education and forums in establishing an everlasting change in the work environment. Implementing a long-term strategy for fostering common humanity in the workplace will encourage more systematic change.


            In exploring corporate diversity training, there seems to be a heavy focus on the “treatment” of workplace discrimination rather than the “prevention” of it. When we pioneer for culture change in our workplace, there must be a focus on educating our peers and preventing the negative consequences of implicit bias BEFORE they occur. 

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