Because of how most of us were raised, we can all un-intentionally hurt others or even discriminate against them. The point is: are we willing to learn when someone takes the time to point out our mistakes and, after that, do we behave differently?
Here’s a New Year’s resolution that could make a world of difference to you and the people around you: seek other people’s feedback – actually ask people how you’re doing – and be open to the feedback that comes your way.
Once I was teaching at a recreational vehicle corporation that had some sales reps in Canada. I was standing up in front of about 40 reps explaining towing regulations and how they varied from state to state. Can you see the mistake I had made? Yes! In Canada they have provinces not states.
Big deal you say? Actually, it was…
The 10 Canadian sales reps already felt like the ugly stepchildren. Because they were outside the U.S., they often got announcements later than the other reps. They had to travel farther and make the extra effort to come to events and so forth. Now, someone (me) who was supposed to be their advocate was leaving them out, once again, by not including their most basic geographic language.
I was so glad someone pulled me aside and pointed out my mistake. Okay, I was also embarrassed and had to work hard not to beat myself up. But we had the most fruitful discussion and I was able to facilitate a larger discussion in the full group that healed some rifts that had been simmering for years.
The intent and the impact are two different things and need to be deal with separately. Just because no one intended to leave anyone out doesn’t mean people didn’t feel left out. I had to deal with the impact. They could understand me (and forgive me which they did) later. First, I needed to attend to the ones who were hurt and admit how U.S. centric I was. The Canadian sales reps were more than ready to accept my apology when I was able to be honest about my insensitivity and conditioned arrogance.
Do you know how you come across to other people?
You may think you’re being inclusive but how others see you might be very different. What’s funny is that many of us are shy or downright scared to ask for feedback. But what people think of you is still there, right? We’re like little kids who put their hands over their eyes and, then, think other people can’t see them.
We can’t do something about something if we don’t know it’s there. Especially when it comes to race and other dimensions of diversity, how are we going to improve if we don’t know what to improve?
It takes a lot of confidence to say, “That was my mistake” but it makes you a much easier person to be with and others will see you as a reliable and approachable friend and ally.
Shall we make it our New Year’s resolution together – to ask others for feedback on how inclusive we’re being and to take an honest look at any feedback that comes our way?
Sue O’Halloran is a diversity consultant working for more inclusive schools, businesses and faith-based organizations. High school teachers, Sue will be offering a free webinar in 2018 – 3 Common Mistakes High School Teachers Make that Have Them Unintentionally Offending Students & Parents of Different Races. Watch for announcements!