Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Have Tough Convos at Work (And How to Get Better At It)

Sponsored by The Hartford

Employees of The Hartford talking at work

Photo courtesy of The Hartford

July 25, 2024 at 5:7PM UTC

Bringing our full selves to work means understanding that our “professional selves” and our “personal selves” will sometimes overlap. And as the world becomes an increasingly noisy place, for many people, social issues can have an impact on how they show up to work each day.

The Hartford, a Fortune 500 insurance company, recognizes this. Already known for having fostered a supportive work culture, company leaders decided it was time to begin supporting their talent in new and different ways. That’s why, in 2018, they launched the Courageous Conversations initiative in partnership with Korn Ferry. 

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By providing training designed to help employees navigate sensitive conversations — about topics like politics, race and religion — in the workplace, The Hartford aims to create a work environment for people to feel heard, safe and respected. During an interview we had with Miranda Bennett-King, The Hartford’s Leader for Inclusion Groups and Programs, the need for spaces like this was particularly driven home when a police-involved shooting occurred near one of its hub locations a few years ago.

“The local leadership team there sprang into action and provided opportunities for employees to come together and openly share their thoughts and feelings,” Bennett-King recalled. “It’s imperative to have a work culture that encourages and supports open dialogue, but these kinds of conversations can be very hard to navigate. Based on where we were with our D&I journey and the need to support employees as they talked through tough topics, we created the Courageous Conversations framework.”  

As part of its launch, 80 employees from across the company attended training to become Courageous Conversations facilitators, equipping them with the tools and resources needed to guide a Courageous Conversations Circle, or “C3.” These voluntary, intimate discussion groups offer a safe space for individuals to engage in dialogue across different topics. Employees have since reported using the skills learned in their C3s to hold difficult conversations in one-on-one settings, team meetings and huddles.

“Courageous conversations are not limited to the workplace. I’ve personally used the framework to engage in tough conversations with my teenage son, especially on race and how it may impact his life experiences as a young black man,” Bennett-King said. 

She sees the initiative as testament to The Hartford’s broader commitment to diversity and inclusion as well as encouraging and supporting open and honest employee conversations. This framework helps build trust and transparency, critical components of an inclusive culture.

In the past year, employees at The Hartford have participated in over 100 conversations on traditionally tough topics, like age, ability, gender and workplace policies. Notably, CEO and Chairman, Chris Swift has also participated in a few C3s during some of his field visits. 

“At The Hartford, our culture is built around ensuring that employees can bring their best selves to work — and in order for this to happen, employees need to feel a sense of psychological safety, respect, value, inclusion, and that they can be their authentic selves,” Bennett-King said. “Courageous Conversations is one of many mechanisms The Hartford is leveraging to support this kind of culture.”


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