“I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”
“I’m afraid that I’m going to make a mistake.”
“I feel like I can’t say anything anymore!”
A friend of mine in an executive position recently lamented something similar before attending a work seminar on anti-racism. She is not alone in feeling exasperated and irritated when faced with difficult conversations. For those in privileged positions, Black Lives Matter and the subsequent recent surge in corporate commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion may be the first time or first few times you have encountered terms on race, gender, or sexual orientation as an identity.
With that in mind, here are some friendly reminders to think about next time you find yourself shutting down from a difficult conversation.
Defensiveness is a natural first reaction. Try not to make it your only. If you are getting defensive, ask yourself why. It is important to recognize when comments or conversations can cause you to shut down or feel dismissive, angry, or even guilty. Sit with that discomfort for a few minutes. Pause before you speak. Take our Global Inclusion Calculator assessment and silently observe how the results may make you feel uncomfortable. Then remember that your biggest strength as a human being is your capacity to set aside your ego in order to learn new things. Open yourself up to the possibility that you may have blind spots about some things and that there is always room for improvement.
The fact that you have bias and blind spots doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you human.
Remember that you still have a place in this new frontier of diversity and inclusion, even if you are a member of the majority community. Another concern I’ve heard from folks is that they don’t know where they fit in with conversations on diversity and inclusion. The truth is that creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive environment means that we need everyone to work toward the same goal. Your experiences and perspectives are absolutely valuable and may need to be utilized in novel ways to adapt to this expanding and more welcoming environment. The secret to adding value rather than damaging an already tenuous situation lies in knowing when to listen respectfully and let someone else into the spotlight.
In the instance with my friend who had encountered her first anti-racism training, I asked her if she expected to come to her classes with all the answers when she began her education on organizational psychology? Of course not, she said. She came to learn. Why should embarking on this practice of talking about her own biases be approached any differently? It is only through exposing blind spots that we can address them.
Your colleagues are also human. Another common lament I hear is that some people find it unnecessary to talk about diversity full stop. “We are all the human race,” for example. What this really means is that you would rather not hear about topics that you may not be able to relate to, and thus makes you uncomfortable. This is perfectly natural. But try to recognize that it is not fair to expect other people to hide their identity and experiences for the sake of your comfort. Denying someone else’s reality will not clear the air, but it will erode trust and possibly escalate situations further.
It is normal to feel the growing pains when we talk about diversity and inclusion. Growth is rarely easy and pleasant, but if we can recognize our defense mechanisms as a natural step in the process, we can move forward towards new and challenging conversations, and be all be better for it.
Start your diversity and inclusion journey with the Global Inclusion Course to learn more about your own blind spots and biases.