Diversity Dilemma #1

Diversity Dilemma #1

“Modern Mentor,” a podcast that explores what helps and hinders success in the workplace, invited me to address several dilemmas that professionals experience when trying to practice diversity without being divisive.

The catch? I’d have to address each dilemma in less than 90 seconds. After all, professionals are busier than ever!

My reply? Let’s get at it.

Today’s post focuses on dilemma #1: How do we ask our co-workers about their identity if we worry that our question will come off sounding ignorant?

Take 67 seconds to hear my answer below.

After I posted this audio clip on LinkedIn, a number of people commented — sometimes with snark. Phillip White, a math tutor, equated my answer to “walking on eggshells.”

Just the opposite, I clarified. It’s about having confidence that the intended conversation is worthwhile and will be productive for both parties. But instead of assuming this, the person with the question is giving the other party time to adjust emotionally so that she/he doesn’t feel threatened by the question.

One may ask: “Why should anybody feel threatened?” I wish we lived in a world where nobody did feel that way by a mere question! However, you and I both know that social trust is at an all-time low. Rather than ignore this reality or even inflame it, we need to work *with* it in order to defuse it. Hence my phrase, “confident humility”: being assertive without being aggressive — all for the sake of being effective.

Another skeptical comment came from Ghyslain Sabourin, a manager at Mondex Corp. He asked, “What happens if they say, ‘Your question offends me, so no, I’m not willing to have the conversation’?”

Fair question, I replied. But what greater good is to be achieved by you taking offense at them taking offense? Personally, I would keep my emotional defenses low and say, “Ok, thanks anyway” (which I guarantee will make them think because they’ll be stunned by your self-mastery). Or you might say, “May I ask what it is about my question that offends you?”

Be prepared for the well-worn answer, “It’s not my job to educate you.” In which case, you might remind them that what changes the world is not job descriptions but meaningful connections, and this is what motivated you to ask a question that can’t be Googled. Having explained your motivation, thank them for hearing you and move on.

Through confident humility, you’ll show that far from being arrogant or ignorant, you’re secure enough to learn about — and from — others. Mark my word, that lesson won’t be lost.

Photo: Cody Engel on Unsplash

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