Black Lives Matters or All Lives Matters…Why Does it Matter?

By Guest Blogger and Delta Concepts consultant, Brad Wilkinson

On its surface, it can certainly sound more inclusive – “All Lives Matter”. But lurking just beneath the surface of this seemingly inclusive comment is, to me, the bigger problem. Many white people simply don’t know and don’t accept that black people’s experience with police & law enforcement in this country is life-threateningly different from their own. That difference in treatment is based on skin color and many have died because of it.

For me, that’s what the BLM movement is saying. (To learn more:  http://www.blacklivesmatter.com). They’re not bashing police but simply pointing out a deadly difference that needs to stop. I believe being supportive of BLM isn’t mutually exclusive with supporting police and law enforcement. As a citizen, I want our police fully staffed, trained and compensated for the work they choose to take on. And I think it was Colin Kaperneck http://(http://www.espn.com/blog/san-francisco-49ers/post/_/id/18957/transcript-of-colin-kaepernicks-comments-about-sitting-during-national-anthem) who pointed out that some cosmetologists require more training and education than do many of our armed police. If all lives really do matter then let’s all be for helping train & equip our law enforcement to cut down on all lethal force incidents across the country.

BLM Logo

From an inter-cultural perspective, lack of knowledge also leads us to minimize differences & thereby, focus on similarities. We want all life to matter so expressing “All Lives Matter” strives to point out that similarity – we want everybody’s life to matter regardless of race. And, simultaneously, the deadly difference isn’t being acknowledged or addressed. Additionally, minimizing can also lead us to see differences as “less than” thereby avoiding or altogether denying legitimacy. Claiming BLM to support violence against police & law enforcement reflects this “less than” type of minimization. Overall, minimization lessens the importance of another person’s experience. The intent or desire may be to find connection, the potential impact is the opposite.

The developmental response to minimization is focus on exploring and learning about the differences. For white people, this means learning some history, doing some listening and potentially stretching our comfort zones. With the benefit of hindsight, I asked myself, as a white person who grew up on a cotton farm in rural southern US during the 1960’s & 70’s, what would I suggest for white people who desire to be allies? These three strategies come to mind:

  1. Educate Yourself Around the Context of Race In The United States.

To know the context of race in this country, you need to understand YOUR relationship with race in this country. With this knowledge, you can then begin to understand OTHERS’ relationship with race in this country and how it IS and ISN’T similar to yours. Some reading that helped me along this path includes but isn’t limited to the following: Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter, Slaves In The Family by Edward Ball, Acting White by Stuart Buck, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, and Slave in a Box, The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima by M.M. Manring.

  1. Practice “Contact Theory” In Your Life – Personally & Professionally

Regularly look for ways to actively engage and be with people not like yourself. I’m not suggesting you “go get yourself a new best friend”. However, I am suggesting you be willing to move outside your comfort zone. Here are some conditions that make for contact theory’s best results: Voluntary, Equal Status, Common Goals, Intergroup Cooperation, Authority Support. This can certainly help us in the workplace to access more diverse talent. Check out this clip of Scott Horton explaining affinity bias: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_52T8ufdZM&t=98s

  1. Listen For The Need

Marshall Rosenburg, in his amazing work around the language of nonviolence http://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/aboutnvc/aboutnvc.htm, speaks to our listening to each other to hear what needs are not being met. It requires us to focus less on who is better/right and more on how needs can be met. Ask yourself, “What need do I hear BLM supporters expressing as “not being met”? “What is my need when it comes to race relations in the US?” “What’s the need I hear in the ‘All Lives Matter’ response?”

Creativity and Innovation Can Expand Diversity Mindset

By Guest Blogger, Melissa Brachfield, TAS

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So many people think of diversity as being defined by race, religion, or sexuality, but I believe it is so much more than that. I think we can broaden the definition of diversity and slow the way that people are marginalized by these terms. I think it’s about engaging in creative and innovative experiences to open our eyes to what diversity really means.

I have been lucky enough to experience two creative exercises that changed the way I view diversity. I’d like to share them with you and then take a step back to define what made the situations successful and how we can build on them to foster a deeper appreciation for diversity. The first was an exercise I was able to participate in during my college freshmen orientation and the second was more recently with an initiative at my workplace. I think both serve as valuable lessons for the impact that creativity and innovation can have on the way we all view diversity.

………….

My intrigue for diversity began at a moment when I least expected it. I arrived at my college freshmen orientation in August of 2008 expecting to browse through course catalogue, mingle with incoming students, and maybe get a tour of the campus I’d call home for four years. I did indeed receive all of that, but the unexpected gift came in a “special activity” that was planned for Friday night of the orientation weekend. Our orientation leaders casually led us into the auditorium where we were greeted by Tyrone Black, the university’s then Director of Multi-cultural Affairs.

Tyrone Black was the creator and facilitator for a term he coined “The Weights of Reality”. The lecture started off really light hearted. He was captivating and everyone in the room was drawn to his energy. After the introduction, the mood took a turn to a more serious note. He went on to discuss weights that we all carry around. There were symbolic weights made from styrofoam cups and string sitting at the front of the room. I remember there to be thousands of them….

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He started off only scratching the surface. He asked who carried around the weight of having too much homework, or needing to find a summer job. As he went on the topics got deeper. He asked about people carrying weights of prejudice, family stress, financial strains, disabilities…

Each time he mentioned a new weight that people carry he would add one of the weights made from styrofoam cups and string around his neck. As you can probably imagine, the site of a man with fifteen Styrofoam cups hanging from his neck was somewhat amusing, but he was so engaging and committed to the activity that it held everyone’s attention. We were all sitting at the edge of our chairs waiting to hear more and get to the punch line of the lecture.

Just at the moment where every student in the room was genuinely invested, he took a pause, turned to the orientation leaders on the side of the room and said “okay it’s time”. He instructed us to follow our orientation leaders out of the room to secluded locations around campus where we would continue to the second part of the activity.

My group of ten was lead to a small conference room on the other side of campus where all the chairs had been previously pushed aside. There was a big enough space left where the ten freshmen, plus our two orientation leaders could sit comfortably in a circle on the floor. In the center of the circle was a pile of the styrofoam weights.

One of the leaders began….

“Tyrone asked if there are situations weighing on you. I am sure there are, just as there are situations weighing on me…”

She placed about five of the weights around her neck

She shared her story about being a dancer and the pressures of keeping fit that weighed on her. It pushed her to develop an eating disorder. She shared her story with confidence, but there were tears in her eyes.

As she got through each part of the dialogue she would remove one weight at a time from around her neck – symbolizing the weight being lifted. When she was finished she turned to the ten of us, who up until that morning had been strangers, and asked if anyone would be willing to “carry” one of her weights. There were multiple people who raised their hands and then took one of her styrofoam weights away from the pile that sat in front her.

When she was done she turned to us and said “well now that you have all helped to carry my weight, I’d like to hear your story and see how I can help to carry yours.”

That next hour changed my life. Each person went around the circle and shared pieces of their lives that were extensions of who they were. The weights were all things below the surface that you would never be able to tell from simply looking at them. At the end of each person’s story, we volunteered to carry the weight for the piece we felt the most connected to. It was remarkable to see the way that strangers were capable of lending help to ease other’s pain.

I had never in my life felt comfortable sharing my own story, but the symbolism of the exercise, and the openness of the people in that room gave me the courage to speak up.

The stories I heard that night are not ones that need to be retold. The point remains the same regardless of what stories were shared. Diversity is what makes us who we are. For that hour of my life, the skin color of the guy who sat to my left and the religion of the girl who sat to my right didn’t matter. They were the farthest things from my mind….

What mattered was the stories that each individual shared and the way that people stepped up to the plate to serve a new classmate that would bond them not only for the first week of class, first semester, or 4 years of college, but for the rest of their lives.

Needless to say, the following year I was the first to submit my application to be an orientation leader and have since lead hundreds of students to the same revelation.

The Weights of Reality was an innovative exercise that changed the way thousands of college freshmen viewed diversity. It set a tone for the kickoff of an amazing college career filled with acceptance and appreciation for the people that surround you.

………………..

The second example of creativity and innovation in diversity that I have experienced is not one that I got to participate in myself, but I was able to see the impact that a diversity initiative had on my work place more than a year after it occurred.

I am currently working Talent Acquisition for one of the largest hospital system in New York City. It’s a big place and there are a lot of initiatives that take place on a daily basis that many people aren’t even aware of.

I had heard whispers around campus about an initiative that was carried out almost a year prior called “A Walk in Their Shoes”, but I hadn’t learned about it up close. It turns out that our director participated. The idea behind a “A Walk in Their Shoes” was that two hospital employees would swap job responsibilities for the day (ideally employees from polar ends of the job spectrum) so they could better understand one another and hopefully have a fresh perspective on the organization’s mission to provide an excellent standard of care to the patients.

The director of talent acquisition was paired with one of the housekeepers who was based on one of the inpatient units in the hospital. The housekeeper’s responsibilities consisted of clearing patient’s bathrooms, mopping floors, changing sheets etc. In any other environment where a housekeeper serves his or her function, the impact is arguable not substantial, but in a hospital environment the patient’s health is at risk. For the sake of the patients, every toilet, sink and door knob needs to be completely disinfected.

My director, although a lovely woman, is not one you would easily imagine scrubbing toilets on her hands on knees, but for that day, she committed to the project and fulfilled her job with pride. The housekeeper who served as her mentor for the day made a lasting impression on her, and she in turn, made a lasting impression on us. The housekeeper came as a guest speaker to one of our staff meetings nearly a year after “A Walk in Their Shoes” occurred and the impact was still evident.

My director threw her arms around this woman as she entered into our conference room. They have, ironically, or not so ironically, formed quite the friendship. Our director inviting this woman as a guest speaker to our talent acquisition staff meeting delivered a central message. Every job talent acquisition hires for at the hospital is important. The housekeepers who keep the patient’s room clean so they don’t catch any infections could be equally as important as the nurse of doctor who treats the patients clinically. The second piece of the message that she delivered is that we shouldn’t judge people based on their job title, educational background, credentials, or status.

I can assure you after that day and hearing the explanation of why her job is so important, I no longer dreaded filling the housekeeping positions that came across my desk. To be quite honest, I now get excited to fill those positions. It is rewarding to hire a diamond in the rough and a person who is equally as committed to the hospital’s mission and the patients as the doctors are. The enthusiasm that many of them bring to their positions is contagious. They are appreciative of the job responsibilities they fulfill because it is their way to make a huge difference. It sounds like a pretty respectable job to me…. Or at least it does now after having the chance to see the results of “A Walk in Their Shoes”.

……………

So, I’ve had the opportunity to share two experiences that broadened my view of diversity. Although “Weights of Reality” and “A Walk in Their Shoes” happened years apart, in different states, run by different people, and at different points in my life, the creativity and innovation of both is what made a lasting impression.

I think we still have a long way to go as mankind when it comes to diversity. Talking and sharing opinions is great and I think every bit will help to change perspective, but in my opinion, the things that make the largest impact, are ones that change you in ways you’d never expect.

I took some time to reflect about the aspects that made these two experiences so successful in changing my thoughts on diversity. Here is what I came up with…

Both events:

  • Broke barriers
  • Gave a different perspective
  • Had a “call to action” instead of just a discussion
  • Forced people to be actively involved
  • Removed the focus of diversity from race and religion
  • Built relationships with unexpected people
  • Left everyone wanting more

If you are ever in the place where you have the chance to develop an activity that will impact people’s views on diversity, I challenge you to think about that list. How can we all continue to think creatively in the evolution of diversity in the hopes of changing the world around us?

Melissa Marsh is Talent Acquisition Recruiter at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and is an aspiring D&I professional

How Nelson Mandela’s Life Example Helps Us to “Pause our Biases”

By Guest Blogger, Michael Frazier, Adjunct Professor, West Georgia University

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With the recent celebration of former South Africa president, Nelson Mandela’s, birthday it serves as a reminder of poignant topics related to forgiveness and unconscious bias. Mandela serves as a modern day embodiment of forgiveness. Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years as a result of the institutional and systemic racism through apartheid. Upon being released from prison, not only did Mandela become the president of South Africa, but also helped to facilitate peace talks between the people of South Africa and the government. Mandela inspired a nation by urging them to forgive their oppressors and asserted, “We made the brain dominate the blood.” Mandela revealed that many South Africans, included himself, did not want to speak to white government officials because their emotions told them not to interact with them. Mandela also stated that our “brains” told us, “If we do not speak to them then our country will go up in flames.” Although Mandela and the people of South Africa had intensely strong feelings against their oppressors, they made a decision to begin peace talks with them. This act of meeting with government officials required an acknowledgment of their feelings, their biases, and an openness to possibly to seeing another’s perspective.

Let us apply this same model to our daily lives. How many times in our families, on our jobs, with our friends have we experienced an incident where our experiences have significantly influenced our perspective where we become unconsciously biased or predisposed in any given situation?

Forgiveness can be quite a nebulous term. For some, forgiveness elicits a religious connotation. For the purpose of this discussion, we are focusing on how forgiveness can help us push pause and discover our bias.

I recently had an experience with a colleague where I felt they did something that was unethical, and I questioned whether I could continue to work with this individual. As I experienced this situation, it triggered many strong feelings, and I felt myself becoming extremely angry, defensive, and perplexed by this person’s actions. Their actions triggered a significant amount of thoughts and feelings that I did not like. To provide more context to the relationship, the individual had a history of being a friendly and supportive colleague. Although definitely not the magnitude of apartheid, I can draw several lessons from how Mandela approached forgiveness of the South African government with my colleagues.

  1. Push the pause button

Pausing first is probably one of the most difficult things that we can do. Before I could respond to my colleague I had to be aware of what was going on for me internally. I experienced many thoughts and emotions. Simply being reactive will not be fruitful for our relationship and for our discussion. Some practical steps with this are to step away from the computer screen, take deep breaths, refrain from social media posts and emails, and removing yourself from the situation.

  1. Get congruent with your emotions

Many times we do not give ourselves the permission to feel what we may need to feel, rather we talk ourselves in to what “we should feel”. I was angry with my colleague, and I had the right to feel the way I did, however these are also my feelings based off of my previous experiences and through my unconscious mind. These feelings are how I am feeling NOW, but they do not mean these feelings are the entire story. Give yourself the space and time to express how the situation may trigger in you. Some practical steps are to use the power of writing down exactly how you feel. There is something powerful about writing down and letting go of how you feel in that moment. Make sure you rip up the paper and throw it away when you are done. In an age of social media posting, resist the urge to post any of this on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or any other outlet.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings and thoughts

This aspect of the process is crucial because after you have given yourself the space to acknowledge how you think and feel explore potential reasons you may feel and think this way. Ask yourself, “Does this situation remind me of previous experiences?” “What does this trigger in me, and possibly, why?” This step proves somewhat more difficult because it requires me being honest with myself. In this situation, am I assuming a victim role because I typically like to play the victim or is there substance to how my colleague was acting? Potentially does this person have a different perspective that influences their actions?

  1. Seek guidance from your close circle of friends/colleagues

Seek out that trusted circle of friends that will hold you accountable, and not allow you to assume you are right and the other person is wrong. The caveat to this if you do not feel you have a trusted friend/colleague, seeking out a professional coach, counselor, etc. might be of assistance to you. These are the friends that are unapologetically honest with you, and are not concerned about your feelings, but more concerned with your well-being. I sought out friends and colleagues who will challenge my biases and assumptions, ask questions to get a better understanding, and will role-play with me if the situation requires it.

  1. Be willing to speak with the person

Having the courageous conversation with my colleague is the ultimate goal. If Mandela and the people of South Africa can meet with government officials who implemented institutional racism through apartheid, surely I can speak to my colleague about my issues with their actions. As Mandela references, “We made the brain dominate the blood,” it can be synonymous with how I can make the decision to speak with my colleague and discuss my perspective, and make myself available to hear their perspective. Hopefully the intentional discussion can create understanding and facilitate more discussion about our working relationship going forward. Sometimes it may prove to be more prudent to involve an unbiased third party in the discussion to support both individuals in getting their points across.

My intention to meet with my colleague is not to fix the situation, but to communicate how their actions affected me, and vice versa.

 

 

Micro Affirmations: Tell People They Matter With Small Acts of Inclusion

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By Bradley Wilkinson, Delta Concepts Consulting Senior Consultant

Recently, a participant in one of my workshops demonstrated “good energy,” as one of my mentors would say. I noticed that she made supportive comments regarding the contributions of others, offered to serve as a scribe during the exercises and generally worked to support the group’s learning as well as her own.

After the workshop ended, she asked me for my business card, and I asked her if I could give her feedback. I told her how much I appreciated what I called her “inclusive behaviors.” It was a short interaction, and I’d mostly forgotten about it until I checked my email. She’d sent an email to her boss and cc’d me. She thanked her boss and the organization for the learning opportunity, and thanked me as well.

Do I even need to tell you how that “small act of inclusion” impacted me? I forwarded a copy to my immediate manager and saved a copy for myself. Motivated by her gesture, I emailed a few “small acts of inclusion” to colleagues to recognize the support I felt from them. I sailed on that great feeling for at least two weeks!

This was a perfect example of what MIT’s Mary Rowe might have called a “micro affirmation”—subtle or seemingly small acknowledgements of a person’s value and accomplishments, displayed either publically or privately.

There are other ways to give people micro affirmations:

•       Solicit Opinions: Find opportunities to ask, “I’d like your opinion about…”

•       Connect on a Personal Level: Take a few minutes to engage in a non-business conversation with a colleague.

•       Ask Questions: When you have a negative reaction to a colleague’s statement or suggestion, lead your response with a question, not a statement.

•       Attribute/Credit Ideas: Acknowledge, by name, the “owner” of an idea during meetings.

•       Monitor Facial Expressions: Be conscious of your facial expressions and center on the speaker.

 

I think of micro affirmations as the antidote to micro inequities. In her 2008 work “Micro-Affirmations & Micro-Inequities,” Rowe shared three benefits to embedding micro affirmations into your leadership practice.

  1. “The first effect is obvious—appropriately affirming the work of another person is likely both to help that person do well, and to help him or her to enjoy doing well.”
  2. “The second effect is that consistent, appropriate affirmation of others can spread from one person to another—potentially raising morale and productivity.”
  3. “The third effect is subtle, and deals with the point that it may be hard for a person to “catch” himself or herself unconsciously behaving inequitably. I may not always be able to “catch myself” behaving in a way that I do not wish to behave. But if I try always to affirm others in an appropriate and consistent way, I have a good chance of blocking behavior of mine that I want to prevent. Many micro-inequities are not conscious—but affirming others can become a conscious as well as unconscious practice that prevents unconscious slights.”

How do you impact people with micro affirmations in your daily leadership practice? Choose one or two to focus on for a week!

You might just find that micro affirmations create macro results.

Micro Inequities:   Attending to the Seemingly “Small Stuff”

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By Bradley Wilkinson, Senior Consultant, Delta Concepts Consulting, Inc.

The small stuff won’t kill you, but death by a thousand cuts is no way to live.

As a facilitator of adult learning, I regularly conduct workshops. Recently, I overheard a female participant push back on her otherwise all male small group. The exercise invited them to capture their ideas on chart paper and to be prepared to share with the larger group.

“You guys always make me do the writing and presenting!” she said. As I approached the group, a couple of her male colleagues replied, “We do not!” To which another woman across the room with another group that worked regularly with them said, “Yes they do!” It was a perfect learning moment for our topic of unconscious bias.

Our beliefs and biases drive our behavior. Some of those behaviors we’re aware of and some we’re not. This woman, and at least one of her female colleagues, were well aware of the bias and the resulting behavior it created. Her other male colleagues were blind to it, and, until that moment, were blind to their blindness.

The behavior, expecting women to automatically handle group processes or “organizational housekeeping,” is a micro inequity.

What is a Micro Inequity?

Mary Rowe of MIT is often credited with creating the term “micro inequities,” building on the work of Chester Pierce on “micro aggressions.” Rowe defines micro inequities as “small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator, which occur wherever people are perceived to be ‘different’.” Some key words here are “small” and “ephemeral” – meaning these behaviors are so subtle and fleeting that they can be difficult to recognize, particularly by the person exhibiting them.

Perhaps that’s why, when a micro inequity is pointed out, the response you get sounds like, “I didn’t mean it like that.” Or, “That’s not what I intended.”

Examples of Micro Inequities include:

  • Introducing one colleague with glowing accolades, the other with just a name
  • Pecking away at a smartphone while someone is trying to have an important conversation
  • Leaving someone out of social gatherings
  • Feeling like your opinion isn’t as valued and you have to push to get heard
  • Cutting off someone in mid-sentence
  • Phrases like: “What she’s really trying to say is,” or “No, where are you really from?”
  • Expecting others to accommodate your time zone
  • Calling you by a nickname that you didn’t share and others created
  • Facial expressions like sighing heavily or rolling eyes
  • Omitting someone from an important communication
  • Using acronyms others don’t understand
  • Being impatient because of an accent, or speaking fast or not enunciating with someone in a language that is not their primary language

Micro Inequities Impede Productivity

If these inequities are so small, why can’t the people on the receiving end simply “get over it”? Shouldn’t they “toughen up” and stop being “so sensitive?”

Don’t think of it as sensitivity; it’s about productivity. If we believe inclusive workplaces are key to productive workplaces, it’s important to look for ways to continuously improve, not only in the results we deliver, but also in how we engage and interact as we produce those results.

I think it’s helpful to think of micro inequities as causing a series of “tiny cuts” – each requiring a Band-Aid. Now imagine if during your work day, you saw colleagues with Band-Aids on them from time to time. And what if you started to see a pattern around who had them and who didn’t. Some people have to endure these tiny cuts, while some people get away without a scratch.

Wouldn’t you want to do something about it? I would.

Some tips to keep in mind:

  • If you are the receiver of a micro inequity, ask the person if you can give them some feedback, and if they say no, ask them when might be a better time. Also think about where you give the feedback – often sharing micro inequities is better done in private. Ask yourself, if I did something that negatively impacted someone I was working with, how would I like to receive that information?
  • Assume positive intent, or at least, do not assume negative intent. Although it can be challenging to be on the receiving end of these behaviors, remember Mary Rowe’s findings that many are unintentional. I tend to start by saying something like, “You may not have noticed …” or, “You probably didn’t mean it …” before I describe what I experienced.
  • Describe the behavior using non-judgmental, non-evaluative, behavior-based language. For example, it’s much more helpful to say, “I noticed when I began speaking you let out a big sigh and rolled your eyes,” than it is to say something like, “I noticed when I began speaking that you completely dismissed me.” The former describes the behavior while the later describes the impact of that behavior on you. It is important to separate the behavior from its impact.
  • After you describe the behavior, share how the behavior impacted you. Often the conversation ends here – especially if the other person didn’t intend to have a negative impact.
  • Ask them to interpret their own behavior, preferably by asking questions such as, “Did you notice it?”; “Is that what you meant?”; “Can you share what was going on for you in that moment?”
  • When both of you feel heard, talk about how you can work together going forward. If you have a suggestion for addressing the behavior, offer it. Like the woman in my workshop – she ultimately suggested the group rotate group writing and presenting responsibilities.
  • It might also be helpful to thank the person for listening to your feedback and being open to change.

Think of micro inequities as an opportunity to practice assertive communication. I hope you don’t have to endure a bigger inequity, but if you do, perhaps you’ll have a more solid foundation from which to advocate for yourself.

Courageous Conversations

Courageous Conversations Blurb

How to Have Respectful Dialogue about Tough Social Issues

By Guest Blogger, Ann Jenrette-Thomas (Delta Concepts Consulting facilitator)

The massacre of LGBT individuals in Orlando, the ongoing killings of Black men and women by police officers, the vengeance shootings of police officers, and the xenophobic sentiment surrounding BREXIT (to name a few), have sparked outrage. What’s worse is there seems to be a growing divide among people: Rather than using these events to achieve greater understanding and prevent future violence, we are becoming increasingly polarized.

If we want to find solutions to the underlying social issues that result in these events, then we must have courageous conversations.

Courageous conversations occur when we speak openly and honestly with people who have different points of view. They require the willingness to listen deeply in order to achieve understanding. They also necessitate communicating our own point of view in a respectful way. The ultimate intention of these conversations is to achieve a greater understanding of each other and, hopefully, find viable solutions.

Smart Strategies

Be forewarned, not everyone is ready to have courageous conversations (these can be emotionally charged issues!). I don’t recommend that you have these conversations if you or the people you want to speak with are not truly open to learning and growing from the conversation. But if you are interested in having conversations that move us forward on important social issues, below are some strategies that will help make your conversation more productive.

  1. Process your emotions first. Before you can have a productive conversation with someone with a different viewpoint, you must first process your own emotions. Emotions tend to run high when it comes to social issues. You may feel angry, hurt, invisible, sad, hopeless, etc. Unfortunately, most people tend to talk or write (e.g., on social media) while their emotions are still running high. Find a way to come to terms with your emotions to the point where you feel like you can be open to hearing a different point of view. Try to journal or talk with people with whom you feel safe.
  1. Designate a time to talk. Believe it or not, failing to schedule your conversation can be a real barrier to communication. You may be an extrovert who processes things out loud and wants to talk immediately because it helps you figure things out. Other people may be more introverted and need time to determine what they want to say before the conversation occurs. If all are comfortable talking about a situation immediately, then a simple, “Is it OK to chat about this now?” will do.
  1. Set an intention for the conversation. Think about how you want to show up and what you want to accomplish. Do you really want to understand the perspective of the other person? Do you want to reach a particular resolution? When you set an intention to do something, you are more likely to act on that intention.
  1. Outline and agree to ground rules for the conversation. This does not have to be a long, arduous process. Allow each person to state what he/she needs in order to make the conversation safe and productive. (Feel free to share this blog post before the meeting so everyone is on the same page.) I highly recommend establishing the following ground rules:
    1. Don’t make anyone wrong;
    2. No one can speak in a manner that demeans, blames, shames, or is hostile toward another; and
    3. Only one person speaks at a time.
  1. Stay curious. Curiosity can be the antidote to biases and preconceived notions. When you stay genuinely curious, your mind can observe new ideas, which allows you to see new possibilities and solutions that were previously invisible to you. Curiosity can also help expand empathy and strengthen relationships. Social issues become polarizing because we tend to de-humanize people with an opposing view. By staying curious, we can connect to the human experience and emotion behind the other person’s viewpoint, which can lead to better solutions. http://www.deltaconceptsinc.com/blog/respectful-curiosity/
  1. Listen attentively. Be fully present when another person is speaking. Listen with your whole body – what are they saying, what is their body language conveying, what else are you picking up on? Be mindful of your own biases and keep them in check. If you are truly listening, you’re not formulating responses while the other person is talking, nor are you interrupting. If you think of something to say while another person is talking, park your thoughts in the “parking lot” (see tip #7 below). http://www.deltaconceptsinc.com/blog/deep-listening-with-ting/
  1. Use a “parking lot.” If you start feel strong reactions (such as anger, irritation, judgment, etc.) while another person is speaking, imagine that there is a parking lot behind you, and place those thoughts/feelings there until it is your turn to speak. You may also use the parking lot whenever you want to respond to something the other person is saying. Once you place an item or feeling in the parking lot, resume attentive listening.
  1. Summarize what the person said. Once the speaker is finished, quickly summarize what you heard in your own words. If you do nothing else, this is the single most effective tip I can offer to de-escalate a situation. You can move from anger to vulnerability within a matter of seconds by employing this technique. Simply say, “What I heard you say was . . . [repeat what you heard in your own words]. Did I understand you correctly?” Don’t get defensive if you didn’t get it quite right; just ask for clarification. Then ask if they have more to share. Sometimes when we hear our words reflected back to us, it leads to new insights. http://www.deltaconceptsinc.com/blog/the-why-and-how-of-misunderstanding/
  1. Validate feelings. Next, validate the speaker’s feelings. You don’t have to agree with their feelings or experience of the situation. Merely put yourself in their shoes and try to understand why they felt the way that they did. Start your validation with this sentence, “I can see why you felt ______________ because . . . [why you believe they might have felt that way].” If you feel unsure about how your words landed with the other person, you can always ask the other person if they felt validated. http://www.deltaconceptsinc.com/blog/stepping-in-with-belief-and-empathy/
  1. Switch roles. Everyone should have an opportunity to speak. If a person is not following the ground rules, don’t get upset. Simply remind them of the ground rules. Remind the listeners to summarize and validate the speaker as needed.
  1. Take action. Once you have a new understanding and expressed your point of you, it’s important to take the lessons learned and decide on how you will take action. The action item may be something personal to you (like learning more about a subject) or it may be on a more global scale (such as working on legislation). No matter how big or small, taking action will reinforce the learning from the conversation and truly help make a difference.

Patience is Key

Be patient with the process. Social issues often carry a strong emotional charge because of how they personally impact people. Many social issues have a deeply-rooted history. As a result, be patient with yourself and others. We may not be able to achieve world peace overnight, but we can incrementally make this world a better, more peaceful and inclusive place – one courageous conversation at a time.

What kind of courageous conversation can you schedule in the coming weeks?

 

The Why and How of (Mis)Understanding

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“I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Alan Greenspan

 Greenspan image

How did Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve, say something that could come right out of the mouth of an inclusion consultant like me?

His quote could have been used to discuss a core dilemma that we experience when people of different backgrounds (all of us!) attempt to communicate, collaborate, work on teams or work with customers.

We often find ourselves in conflict or working counterproductively based on our misaligned communication.

 Why? There could be a few reasons.

  1. There is a hearing or listening problem involved. http://www.deltaconceptsinc.com/blog/deep-listening-with-ting/
  1. We are in a hurry and need to slow down. http://www.deltaconceptsinc.com/blog/the-two-brained-monster/
  1. The cause of that broken communication is just plain old human nature.

Let’s dive in on that last one.

We Are Snowflakes

Snowflake

No two snowflakes are the same. And no two people have had the same set of life experiences. We all have had different histories with our families, education and cultural exposure, among other things. Each person’s filtering system in their brain is completely unique. People have different values and biases…different perspectives on what is “good” and “bad.” Some of these things are conscious and some are unconscious.

Anaïs Nin said it beautifully: “We don’t see things are they are; we see them as we are.”

How it Works

So how does Alan Greenspan’s quote relate? Consider these two perspectives:

Sally: I know my intent. I don’t even think twice about it. My thinking process and that voice in my head (my internal dialogue) is so familiar to me that I rarely if ever examine it for accuracy or bias. I don’t question how my point of view was formed. I’m comfortable with “my voice,” and I’m going to express it.

Sally proceeds to speak. And she LETS IT RIP.

How was Sally’s commentary received?

Fred: I felt that. Viscerally. Wow. I can’t believe that Sally would say that to me. She has to KNOW the impact that her words would have on ME! It’s so clear to me that Sally is insensitive or out of touch. Wait, she might even be a ______-ist! Should I go to HR or just avoid her?

Leading With Understanding

In our communications workshops, we teach a few skills that you might find helpful. I gleaned many while working with the wonderful folks at Executive Diversity Services (EDS). http://www.executivediversity.com

#1: Remember that in most cases “intent” does not equal “impact.”

Very few people come to work each day with the intent to hurt others, to be uncaring or to alienate or put down teammates. The core cultural concept to remember is that likely, harm was not intended.

#2: Whenever possible, state your intent. Do this before you convey your message, advice or feedback.

Example: “Mary, before I deliver this feedback on the project you just completed, let me share my intent: I plan to help you develop even further in your role, and I see you leading many more projects in the future. So please put my feedback into that perspective.”

#3: Remember to assume positive intent.

Whenever something said or done by another “lands” in a way that feels counterproductive or inappropriate, try to avoid the natural human tendency to assume that they are out to get you. There’s something in our primitive brain that tries to protect us from invaders…we also try to protect our ego!  Build an inclusion muscle and assume positive intent. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Ask yourself, “What else might be true about this person to lead them to say or do what they said?”

Example: “Everyone knows that what you just suggested is pretty much the old way of doing things.”

This could be received as, “He’s calling me stupid! Everyone thinks I’m stupid?” But if you assume positive intent, you might think: He likely did NOT wake up this morning with the intention of insulting me. I’ve had many productive and respectful conversations with this person.

Press the PAUSE button and don’t jump to conclusions.

If the episode continues to bother you, try this tip.

#4. Describe, Interpret and Evaluate

This is a powerful feedback tool from my friends at EDS. It’s simple, but not always easy.

Step One: Describe the other person’s behavior in nonjudgmental terms. Describe it as if a video camera recorded the interaction

*Earlier today you said to me, “Everyone knows that what you just suggested is pretty much the old way of doing things.”

Step Two: Invite them to interpret the meaning of what they said.

*Could you help me understand why you said that and what you meant by it?

After they explain, if you need to, share the impact of how their behavior affected you.

*Thanks for your explanation. In the moment, I felt as if you were putting me down. I appreciate you letting me know that wasn’t the case!”

Step Three: If needed, evaluate how you will handle miscommunication in the future. If the situation needs another conversation, set that up.

Diversity and Misunderstandings

The more differences we have between us in terms of culture, gender and orientation, ethnicity and race, age and the rest of our human rainbow, the more chances that YOUR meaning will not land the way you intended according to MY perceptions and understanding. This is not a bad thing. I think it’s amazing, and what makes living in this world so interesting and fun.

So, in summary:

  1. Remember that often Intent≠Impact, especially when diversity is in the mix.
  2. Remember to assume positive intent. Give people the benefit of the doubt unless they’ve proved unworthy of your positive assumptions. (Of course if the behavior keeps coming your way, you have the right to STOP assuming positive intent!)
  3. When in doubt about their intentions, have the courage to give feedback. Most of us would rather DIE than have a difficult conversation! (Get it? DIE: Describe, Interpret, Evaluate.)
  4. Describe their behavior or words/invite their interpretation (share the impact), and evaluate where to go next with the conversation to keep improving the relationship.
  5. During it all … remember to Listen with Ting! (link to Ting Blog)

Let me know if these tips help you!

Deep Listening with Ting

TING for blog

When I began my diversity career as a facilitator at IBM in the mid-1990’s, one of my favorite activities to lead was a listening exercise. We matched participants in pairs and they each had the chance to be the listener and the speaker in the exercise.

Imagine how you would react as the listener if you were give this directive:

“When you are listening to your partner, maintain eye contact, do not respond verbally or non-verbally. Your job is just to listen. Be there as receiver of their story. Just listen. In your mind, attempt to avoid mental chatter, avoid thinking about what you are going to speak about when it’s your turn. Avoid turning their story around in your mind to how it relates to your story. Silence the little voice in your head that often is critical and self focused. JUST LISTEN to the other person’s story.”

We instructed the speaker to discuss a neutral topic for 60 to 90 seconds, such as “my hometown,” or “my best vacation.” After, the individuals switched roles so that everyone had the chance to both speak and listen. Easy enough, right?

Here is feedback we received on listening:

  • That was so tough. I felt so weird just looking at my partner and not giving them any feedback.
  • My little voice was going crazy! I couldn’t really focus on my partner’s story. I thought it would be easier than it was.
  • I wish I could have nodded a little bit to let my partner know I could hear them.
  • That felt more like 60 minutes than 60 seconds!

Listening is hard!

What we were exploring was the power of the unconscious mind and the fast and slow brain dynamic that is always in play (but not always noticed).

The fast brain evolved for survival, the instinct all animals have, that protects the ego, the “I.” Simply put, it’s responsible for that “little voice” in your head. This is the voice that our “listener” participants heard while trying to focus on their partners. This voice often sends messages designed to help us “look good,” and not embarrass ourselves. It is always trying to prove our worth.

Sadly, when that voice is allowed to run free, it gets in the way of true connection and authentic, open communication in our relationships. It is especially attuned to difference: The more the other person is different, the louder it tends to become. What we were trying to teach participants is the art of mindfulness.

Borrowed from Eastern philosophical practices like meditation, conscious breathing, and present moment awareness, mindfulness helps us sharpen the ability to silence our mental chatter. It allows us to be more generous listeners, avoid snap judgments, and to assume positive intent. Mindfulness is very helpful in creating a more inclusive workplace culture. Not to mention better relationships with spouses and partners, parents, children, and friends.

Years after the IBM listening exercise, I was working with my colleagues at Executive Diversity Services during inclusion workshops at Pepsico, when I learned about Ting:

TING for blog

 

Translated from Mandarin, Ting means empathetic or deep listening.

Ting refers to a composite of all of the critical elements of effective listening:

  • The ear is necessary for hearing the words spoken;
  • The mind/YOU, for interpreting the meaning of what has been seen and heard;
  • The eyes, for seeing the message conveyed by the body;
  • And the heart, for being able to feel what is wanted and needed from the relationship.

What does it feel like when you have been listened to by someone who practices this empathetic listening? For me, it feels amazing. It feels like I’m worthy, important, and really heard for my point of view. It makes me want to return that level of patience, understanding, and inclusion to the other person and to others in my life.

Try it today. The next time someone at work is sharing a story, a problem, a triumph, or a feeling, practice listening with the concept of Ting. With your whole self: ears, eyes, mind, and heart. Ting will help you silence that fast brain little voice in your head.

We all can be better listeners. And we all have something to gain by making it less about ourselves and more about our partners, colleagues, and customers.

Let me know in the comments section how it goes for you!

 

The Golden Rule Needs an Upgrade?

goldenrule

“Do unto others as you would have done to you.”

That’s the Golden Rule. Growing up in Pennsylvania in a Christian home, I heard this repeated hundreds of times. In church, school and at home. It became embedded in my thinking. I was told that Jesus shared this advice, and that I should use it as baseline guidance for how to make decisions in my life.

It has served me well over the years to ponder: That thing I’m getting ready to do or say… how would I feel if the same behavior or language was directed toward me?

It’s a good litmus test, right?

Not so fast! In the interest of full inclusion, here’s a quick peak at the historical, cultural and religious sources of this law of reciprocity, which wasn’t called “golden” until 1600 in England, historians say.

Here is where we have seen it show up:

“That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.” — Ancient Egyptian papyrus, 664 – 323 BC

“Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” — China, Confucius, c. 500 BC

 “Hence, (keeping these in mind), by self-control and by making dharma (right conduct) your main focus, treat others as you treat yourself.” — Ancient Indian Sanskrit text of Mahābhārata

“Do not do to others that which angers you when they do it to you.” – Greece, Isocrates, 436 – 338 BC)

“That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another whatsoever is not good for itself.” — Persia, Pahlavi Texts of Zoroastrianism, c 300 BC – 1000 AD

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” — The New Testament of the King James Version of the Bible, Matthew 7:12

It turns out the Golden Rule is ancient wisdom with global and nearly universal acceptance! But let’s approach this with inclusion in mind.

All respect to ancient and modern religious texts: It’s time for an upgrade.

What if the other person doesn’t want to be treated the same as you? The rule as we learned it makes the assumption that what is good for me is probably going to be welcomed by you. Is this accurate?

Let’s look at an example.

I like to be called out in front of my peers and colleagues and acknowledged for an accomplishment or special effort. There, I said it! It’s been that way since I was the trumpet soloist in junior high school in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania. After my solo in jazz band, the crowd would applaud, my chest would swell, and I’d practice even harder before the next concert. I liked the spotlight.

My father inspired it. If he ever saw me deflecting a compliment from a neighbor or family member, he would tell me to puff my chest, smile and thank the person. I became comfortable with being recognized, even in front of large groups.

Now, the Golden Rule tells me that if I’m managing someone who does a great job, I should consider recognizing them in a very public forum. That’s how I would like to be treated. But some people are shy, humble or appreciate privacy. They don’t want what I want.

The Golden Rule is a great starting point. But inclusion calls for an upgrade. Let’s call it the Platinum Rule. “Treat Others the Way They Want to be Treated.”

This is where inclusion comes in. We develop that relationship, display respectful curiosity and learn what matters to other people. You’ve heard it so many times and in so many ways that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to leading and partnering with others at work. No two people see the world the same way, have the same preferences or like exactly the same treatment in the workplace. Rather than using your own frame of reference, apply the Platinum Rule framework to be more inclusive and effective.

Today’s Small Acts of Inclusion Tip:

What do your colleagues, teammates or direct reports really want? Find out. Create a short survey and get some Platinum Rule data.

  1. What does effective feedback look like to you?
  2. How do you like to be acknowledged or recognized?
  3. What time of the workday do you have the best energy to brainstorm?
  4. What kinds of projects at work get you the most motivated or excited?

Give your teammates permission to give you feedback if they feel that you could have handled a situation differently and more effectively. Remember, “Intent rarely matches impact.” Allow open communication. How did it feel for them to be asked these questions?

For every Golden Rule or Platinum Rule concept, no matter what the results are, there is a Silver lining: You’re getting closer and closer to fostering an inclusive environment.

 

Stepping in with Belief and Empathy

Thoreau-empathy-quote

When someone tells you they have experienced discrimination, take a breath, pause and consider what they are saying before letting your own thoughts and feelings take over.

I wish I could get a “re-do” on this one. Years ago, I was with a friend from Chicago at a nice restaurant in my hometown of Atlanta. When he told me that earlier in his business trip, he was followed around by security guards at two exclusive stores, I questioned him.

“Are you sure? I’ve never even seen security guards in those stores,” I said.

“Yes, I’m sure,” he said.

“Were you dressed like you are now, in a suit, or were you in your gym clothes?” I asked.

He nearly spit out his drink. We both know he would never go shopping for expensive suits and shirts in his workout attire.

He quickly changed the subject and cut our night of catching up short. But he later gave me the gift of some feedback: Just because I, as a white person, may have never been followed around a store under suspicion of shoplifting, I shouldn’t immediately assume that this wouldn’t happen to him, an African American person.

It’s hard to remember that not everyone is having the same experience in our organizations, our stores or out on the street.

This willingness and ability to engage with empathy—attempting to understand the experience and feelings of another, even if we’ve never had the experience or feelings—is the least developed leadership competency but one necessary to becoming a high-performing leader, according to research by IBM’s Smarter Workforce division. And here’s the thing that’s fascinating about this important quality: Empathy can’t be taught. It must be personally developed by the leaders and team members themselves.

Brene Brown

Brene Brown has taught millions of people about vulnerability and empathy. I like this short explanation of empathy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

Which brings me back to my friend from Chicago. I wish I hadn’t gotten defensive. I wish I had been empathetic and compassionate. I wish I had asked him to tell more of his story instead of turning it around to my story. I wish I had stepped into his experience with belief.

In later conversations, I got out of my own way and listened. I learned what “driving while black” means to him. I learned how scared he was to send his teenage son out into the world with a drivers’ license. I learned why he hates being called “articulate.” I learned how to ask respectfully curious questions about his experience so that I could develop my skills of being empathetic. He gave me great advice too: Don’t feel guilty about your rarely-thought-about privilege as a white man, he said. Just keep being open to the fact that others may not be having the same experiences in the world or at work.

I can do that, and I have done that, and it’s changed my life in many positive ways.

What about you? Are you willing to explore the different stories of your colleagues and teammates and to step into their stories with belief? Don’t worry about crossing that “HR line” of being invasive or nosy. Just ask questions with respectful curiosity. Like me, you’ll be glad you did.

Check out these extra resources:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2015/05/26/crafting-an-empathy-driven-approach-to-management/