with Stephen Hammond
Tip #37 — CONSIDER ISSUES NOT ON YOUR RADAR SCREEN
Leaving something alone because you either don't want to deal with it or you aren't sure how to deal with it, is very different than not thinking about it. There are plenty of times when insensitive statements or injustices take place and they don't even turn up on our radar screens because we're not tuned into things that can be a problem for another person.
Years ago I was co-facilitating a workplace training session with a colleague. The contract was mine and I was able to select my co-facilitators. Being a white guy myself, I wanted to reflect the community as much as possible, so I got a woman to co-facilitate half of the sessions and brought on an Aboriginal colleague for the other half. During a break at one of the sessions, my co-facilitator Liz turned to me and asked, "What are we going to do about that comment?" When I asked, "What comment?" I was surprised to hear her repeat a comment both of us had heard, but which hadn't registered for me. I can't remember the exact comment, but it was derogatory towards women, and the minute Liz brought it up, I was surprised I had let it pass without saying anything. It was as useful a lesson to me as it was to participants. Clearly I hadn't felt the sting Liz had. I realized that being a man, I don't feel the sting a woman feels, because I'm not in her shoes. I can feel for a woman. I can understand why she feels badly. I can even flinch when a sexist comment is made. But I don't feel the sting a woman feels.
Regardless of who feels what sting, the important thing is to be supportive when we know others are affected by hurtful language. When I do catch such a comment, I'm not interested in shaming anybody. I'm interested in talking about the comment and dealing with its ramifications. Above all, I want to make sure participants don't think I agree with the comment by my silence.
If a workplace environment is such that people feel comfortable bringing up and dealing with issues, a simple explanation is often all you'll need. Some situations, however, will call for more explanation and understanding. For example, referring to "native time" might seem harmless or even light when one is referring to an Aboriginal co-worker being late, but to your Aboriginal colleague, it's going to be offensive, because it buys into a stereotype.
1) Be open to criticism — and try not to be defensive. When someone accuses you of being insensitive, or not responding to something they thought was clearly inappropriate, listen. It's much better to have people speaking up than holding onto grudges (which many of us do). They'll speak up more often if you are open to comments.
2) Be inquisitive — and learn. When someone is educating you about something you didn't realize, be inquisitive and avoid making judgmental comments. You can explain if there is a misunderstanding. And if you're not certain what to say, you can always sit on it for a moment and address the issue after more thought.
3) Share your new education with others — perhaps with everyone present. When an employee informs you of an inappropriate comment, in addition to your new learning, it might be a good learning experience for others. Ask the employee if it would be a good thing to share with others - so they won't make the same mistakes. This employee might be open to it.
This is TIP #37 of 52 WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors.
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