There is an elephant in the room in your community and at your workplace. The name of this elephant is “race”. The Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial has caused people to have strong opinions about what happened, and what should have happened regarding the trial’s verdict. Yet, in most work environments we have been told do not talk about race, religion or politics. This means that most people only voice their opinion with those whom they know already agree with their point of view.

My goal with this newsletter in general and this article in particular is to present information in a way that will cause the you to consider other perspectives before cementing your opinion. When you tell me, “Hmm, I had not thought of it that way,” I believe I have accomplished my goal for that month’s message.

Race is the elephant in the room because  without empowering individuals to have a dialogue about this in a safe environment where different points of view can be heard, the elephant just gets bigger, and people cement their position without the benefit of diverse perspectives. When this happens in the workplace, reduced productivity and lack of full engagement impacts the organization short term and long term.

Much of my work with clients includes helping individuals and teams learn how to have courageous conversations about uncomfortable issues such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. The objective is not to convince the other person to think like you do. The objective is to heighten curiosity about why people believe as they do—what is the “back story”, the context in which they have framed their beliefs. When these dialogues occur in a constructive way the result is higher engagement, and better communication in many ways beyond the specific subject at hand.

What is needed to support a work environment of cultural learners instead of cultural critics?  Leaders at all levels of the organization must first understand that ignoring the elephant does not make it go away. Because you have read this article this far, I know you are a cultural learner, so I invite you to take various actions, most of which are in the Tips section of this message.

Before a non-judgmental discussion can occur, the participants in the dialogue need to own their personal biases. The first step to change is awareness. Below are several definitions of words that tend to get tossed around as though they all have the same meaning. These definitions are a composite of several sources from experts and academicians.

Make time to complete the unconscious bias test. See the link below. Be prepared for honest feedback (It is totally confidential) and stop yourself when you start to reject its results. Be open to the possibilities.

Join me in working toward being the change we want to see. Speak up and speak out even if your voice cracks. Click the comment button and let me know your responses. Let’s convene a dialogue on the blog. 

Tips, techniques….

  1. Study these definitions and then use the words accurately in your courageous conversations with others. Share this with two or three colleagues and have a discussion about the words themselves.

Bias

An inclination or preference, especially one that interferes with impartial judgment.

Bigot

A person fanatically devoted to one’s own group, religion, politics, or ethnic group and intolerant of those who differ.

Racism

The notion that one’s own ethnic stock is superior which leads to prejudice or discriminatory actions based on ethnicity. A system of advantage based on race.

Stereotype

A conventional, usually oversimplified opinion, perception, or belief about a person based on group definitions without consideration for the  individual’s unique attributes.

Prejudice

An adverse opinion or judgment formed beforehand or without full knowledge or complete examination of the facts.  Irrational hatred, or suspicion of a specific group, or religion.

2. Take the Implicit Bias test. It is also known as the unconscious bias test. Harvard University and others collaborated on its development and it is very enlightening. IT IS FREE, so encourage others to experience the test and then discuss your reactions with others.  Click here for more details