Leadership and Coaching in Nepal – Deborah Koehler (part 8)

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Communication Skills for Diversity Training.

On September 9th, I spoke with 14 participants at different levels of the client organisation about the difference between horizontal training and vertical training. The intention of the exercise was to identify the key principles of each participant in ways that helped build their understanding and motivation to hire a more diverse population into the organisation. Each of us is unique. Each of us – by virtue personality, temperament, upbringing, and experience – has a distinctive way in which we interact with the world and communicate with others. If we do not understand this linkage between who we are, how we are, and what we do, our will, heart, and mind are often absent from our communications – which, then, are at best lame and uncompelling and, at worst, unpopular and counterproductive.

Education was begun in the 1950 for the “upper classes” in Nepal who lived mostly in the Kathmandu Valley. The Brahmans were the teachers to the kings for centuries. Only in the last 30 years have village schools been built; only in the last 20 have girls been sent to school. These children are now coming of age. They are from the lower classes, and they are ready and eager to join the workforce. But because they are not hired. Not because they are unprepared. Not because they are incapable. Not because they are inflexible. They are not hired because deep-rooted discrimination gets in the way, ugly dated judgments that have nothing to do with talent or ability and everything to do with prejudice. HR managers need to step back and look their hiring practices – and prejudices. There needs to be equal representation in the workforce. That is only fair. It is also good business.

I did not want to provide superficial skills training but, rather insights and models that would inspire all participants, regardless of position or level of English mastery, to root their communications in who they are as people. Everyone understood. The questions we asked – “what surprised you about this person’s story and what was unexpected about that person’s story” – gave each participant the encouragement to bring a true self into our discussion. Each participant took a small risk in doing so. Half were from mixed caste marriages; half from arranged marriages within their own caste. Some were raised outside Kathmandu Valley; some outside Nepal. But all had real selves, and all of us found them interesting and worth getting to know.

As this was my first time in working with this organisation, I was not sure at what level of sophistication to pitch this training. There is a lot of new research coming out about creating futures that transcend past patterns of behavior. Given its influence, they are in a position to help make this happen in Nepal. But it cannot happen if the people in the room do not or cannot or will not speak from their true selves. I think we showed that they can.

The leadership of this group is strong and capable and realistic. They deserve broad support for what they are trying to do. Nepali society has been numbed by generations, by centuries, of using power and position to humiliate, to control, to silence. It is all the more important, therefore, that we now help the children of this heritage speak – clearly, openly, honestly, from the base of who they are as human beings. Silence is no longer an option. We need them to speak to us every bit as much as they need to do so.

And that means we all need to learn how to listen, really listen, not only to what each other says, but also to the person who is doing the saying. Old ways, old habits, old prejudices have long held Nepal – and Nepalis – in check. They need do so no longer. Part 9