How to Stop Tokenizing People

How to Stop Tokenizing People

“How do you avoid tokenism?” I asked. Because clients regularly ask me this question, I wanted to learn from experts whose work demands that they avoid tokenism. So, I turned to two video journalists, Kuwilileni Hauwanga and Abby Narishkin of Business Insider. They’ve made it their mission to create and produce videos that honor their diverse viewership, including the demographics they represent.

But before I tell you about what I learned from them, first some basics.…

Background

Tokenism is the practice of doing something merely as a symbolic effort – for example, hiring a person who belongs to an under-represented group, only to prevent criticism, meet numerical goals and/or give the appearance that people are being treated fairly.(1) “Tokenism is about a box people are trying to check,” Kuwilileni said.

Why tokenism is a problem

At a time of growing public demand for effective diversity initiatives, tokenism hurts both people and business. Tokenism increases the isolation and alienation of employees of under-represented groups. It also increases their work load and overwhelms them because they have to show greater competence than their dominant-culture counterparts. “I end up taking on more work because I’m the one in the room who has to name the gap, the lack of diversity,” said Kuwilileni. “I look forward to when the white people notice and name the gap and help to find, value and pay the diverse experts.” The stress and isolation of having to carry that extra burden weighs heavily on people over time – lowering engagement, stifling innovation and increasing turnover.

What causes this problem

People’s individual actions do not come out of a void, they are a reflection of a larger system, such as a company and its culture surrounding them. Dr. Edward Deming (1900–93), renowned management consultant, argued that 94 percent of problems are caused by the system, not the individual.(2)

To see the implicit systems that influence the way we think, talk and act, we need to recognize a particular mental model in play within our culture: minimization. Fully 66 percent of people who take the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI) assessment worldwide are right in the middle of the five stages of Cultural Intelligence, the stage called “Minimization”(3) The percentage is that high because it’s the default mindset of the dominant culture, of an organization and in society as a whole. Minimizing or ignoring different-ness creates an environment in which people tend to focus on what everybody has in common and assume others are “like us.”

The approach of focusing on what we all have in common may be well intended in dominant culture but the impact of minimization is dismissiveness of our own and others’ humanity. The result of this collective minimization, or mindlessness of one another’s heart and humanity, is tokenism. And the effect is deeply demoralizing.

How to stop the problem of tokenizing

The problem, then, is not that anybody’s inherently evil but that people have an inherited ignorance of the system. And here’s the good news: If ignorance is the fundamental problem, we are dealing with a fixable problem.

The antidote is to become more aware of the systems that influence us and others, making us less likely to perpetuate them.

To upend minimization, people of dominant-culture can become aware of their culture and its impact on themselves and others, and also recognize that each person’s experience is just one of many cultural patterns.(1)

The journalists’ experience

“How do you overcome tokenization as a manager?” I asked Kuwilileni. She said, “People need to see that their reality is only one of many.” She suggested that dominant-culture group members orient themselves toward people of non-dominant culture in the room and understand and affirm their experience as valid even if it’s different from their own. That will help them to notice who is and isn’t talking, encourage differing ideas and wonder who else needs to be in the room. She said, “When you notice and name the gap, you can begin to address the problem of obscured or silenced voices. In my case, as a black woman, there is a perception that I have to be smaller, less vocal and take up less space.” That can leave some silenced.

I asked Kuwilileni, “What do you hope for?” She said, “I’m excited for the day when the labor doesn’t fall on the handful of non-dominant culture people. That’s not happening now.”

“What would you describe is the ‘labor’ in this case?” I asked.

Kuwilileni said, “I’m looking forward to not having to point out the need for reparative justice and have conversations about why there are no black people here. I look forward to the white people doing that one day.”

I asked, “Considering this current gap, how do you manage your team?” For her, a huge part of it is conscious reporting. To represent people of non-dominant cultures in her stories without tokenizing them, Kuwilileni suggested everyone be trained in what to look for and why we’re looking for it. As a manager, there are questions she asks her team…

  • What is the industry?
  • What’s our goal with this story?
  • Who do we need to represent and reach?
  • Are all groups in that industry represented?
  • How are we finding these people?
  • What else does the story require and why does it require that?

As an example of effective inclusion of diverse voices, Kuwilileni highlighted two distinct stories covered by her team and produced with Abby:

  1. “How the NYPD Became the Most Expensive Police Force in the World”
  2. “Why Millions of Potatoes Are Being Thrown Away During the Pandemic”

“With the Police video, the need at the beginning was clear; we were talking about police violence against black people. We needed a black person with expertise to speak to that,” she said.

As production went on, Kuwilileni and Abby realized they needed more representation from the diverse community that makes up New York City. So in order to get a more complete story, they interviewed people from various backgrounds who could speak to the impact of policing from informed personal and professional experience.

On the other hand, the team saw a lack of diversity as they reviewed the Potato video. But as they dug in and analyzed the “system” around the people in the story, they realized that the majority of farmers in its setting of rural Idaho are white, and the people in the story reflected the community and the expertise needed for that reporting.

How to capture the story

“What do you do to capture stories with diverse perspectives?” I asked Abby, adding: “I’m guessing people from under-represented groups may not be inclined to speak with a white reporter at first.”

Abby said, “You’re right, people don’t always trust me. But that doesn’t mean the story shouldn’t be told.

After years of being belittled under the system of minimization, people of color, women and those who are differently abled may hesitate to speak up for fear of retaliation, misrepresentation, social isolation or job loss even when asked to speak up. As a result, it takes time to build a genuine relationship.

Abby explained, “As a white person, I have extra work to do – particularly with people from under-represented groups who are unaccustomed to being heard – to create a space where they feel safety and trust. It’s worth the investment of time, though, because I get to meet and talk with people I never would have known before, and Business Insider gets richer, more in-depth reporting.”

Thinking organizationally, Kuwilileni added that it’s huge “to not tokenize and to look around and see where you’re lacking in skill, background and culture in your own company. In our work, if we’re lacking culture, we’re missing money, because we’re missing an entire sector of the market.”

Teams and organizational leaders that acknowledge and support cultural differences and see them as an asset outperform organizations that are homogenous or minimize the differences of their diverse workers.(4) As an example, Kuwilileni said, “The highest-performing show on Business Insider is the most diverse; it’s called, ‘Still Standing.’ The show has a diverse network of freelancers all over the world who know what’s going on in their country, and they tell us because we’ve taken the time to build a trusting relationship with them.”

How to build trust

“How do you gain people’s trust?” I asked Abby. She said, “It takes courage. I straight up own my whiteness with new sources and how my cultural context can keep me from seeing other perspectives. I might say, ‘Because of my whiteness, I’m not likely going to see what it’s like for others. Would you mind telling me your perspective so that I can get a more complete story and share it with others who don’t know?’”

To build trust with others, it’s helpful to know that there are two types of trust, one from the head and one from the heart. Trust from the head, or cognitive trust, is based on the confidence that comes from knowing another person’s accomplishments, skills and reliability. Cognitive trust is built typically through business interactions and the conditions of the situation. A person works well, does good work and is consistent, so they are “trustworthy” – because people in dominant Western culture tend to rely heavily on cognitive trust.(5)

Trust from the heart, or affective trust, is based on feelings of closeness, empathy and friendship. This trust is built through sharing meals, drinks, coffee – social experiences. It’s typically less transactional than cognitive trust. Affective trust is built slowly over time. You share personal time and know one another on a deeper level.(5)

Abby has learned that she needs to develop both kinds of trust when she’s talking with anyone, but particularly people from non-dominant groups. She has learned she can slow down and shift away from the task-oriented, get-it-done behavior of the culture she represents and build a trusting relationship using both her head and heart.

Abby explained, “What I’ve learned is that it’s important to allow for unique reactions to questions I ask. For some people, being asked questions by a white woman can be a trigger of previous emotional trauma; whereas, for others, questions can be affirming of their experience. If someone is feeling tokenized as a result of my questions, I back off and affirm their feelings and respect their request to redirect the conversation or stop altogether. On the other hand, I’ve experienced people who want to be asked about their experience as a person of color or of an under-represented group, and I appreciate and affirm that too.”

When Abby and Kuwilileni express compassion for others within their particular contexts, they’re upending minimization; that’s cultural intelligence in action. It’s when they’re in conversation with people that they’re able to discern what people need to feel safe, and can adjust words and actions to show genuine respect.

Abby explained, “Each person, their experience and their reaction is unique. What’s important is to center the conversation around them, not me, that way they feel valued and heard.”

In any organization, tokenism hurts people of under-represented groups and it hurts the organization. However, diversity has meaning when dominant and non-dominant group member voices count, have influence and are seen as an asset. When members of all groups are working in cahoots, noticing and naming gaps, striving to create a culture where both historically dominant and non-dominant group members together feel heard and engaged, people feel valued, and organizations retain their people.   -Amy Narishkin, PhD

Who do you know in your network that would like to learn more about how to be a compassionate leader? Please share this link with them.

References:

  1. Merriam Webster Dictionary:
  2. Deming, E. (2012) The System of Profound Knowledge. https://deming.org/demings-system-of-profound-knowledge/#:~:text=The%20System%20Of%20Profound%20Knowledge,theory%20of%20knowledge%20and%20psychology
  3. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
  4. Distefano, J & Mazevski, M. (2012) “Creating Value with Diverse Teams in Global Management.” Organizational Dynamics.
  5. Meyer, E (2014) The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business. New York: PublicAffairs.
  6. Image: Fath, Randy. https://unsplash.com/photos/G1yhU1Ej-9A
Workplace with Headspace

Workplace with Headspace

“I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out a good professional goal for my engineering manager. Do you have any ideas?” asked Eliza (not her real name) in her monthly Executive Coaching session with Empowering Partners. Eliza is the vice-president of engineering in a mid-size manufacturing firm. She wants to provide her direct-reports and department the headspace for growth and safety so that they all experience greater fulfillment, collaboration and innovation.

The firm has found that their training and leadership development efforts are more successful when based on the insights gained from working with the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI®).

The IDI assesses a person’s ability level to successfully engage in conversation with people representing diverse opinions. In terms of cultural intelligence, IDI has found that individuals and groups fall into one of five core mindsets: Denial, Polarization, Minimization, Acceptance or Adaptation.(1)

Eliza is a leader currently in the mindset of Acceptance. That means she…

  • Has a deepening understanding that each person’s experience is unique to them;
  • Recognizes each person’s inherent dignity;
  • Is curious about people’s differences and commonalities and is able to withhold judgment;
  • Feels unsure of what to do or say;
  • Is open to discovering more approaches for engaging with people.(1)

Eliza was unsure of how to help her engineering manager (let’s call him Tom) develop a professional goal that would be meaningful for him as well as support a safe working environment for his colleagues. So I asked her to notice and name a feeling she has about his behavior that was not contributing to the productivity of his department.

“What does Tom do that is unproductive, maybe even annoying?” I asked Eliza.

VP: “He complains to both his colleagues and me about all his stress.”

AN: “Is he aware of how much he’s complaining about his stress?”

VP: “Not that I can tell.”

AN: “It sounds like he is unaware of how he’s impacting others, and equally unaware of how burdened he feels.”

VP: “Probably. Likely, actually.”

AN: “What could he do differently?”

VP: “Delegate.”

AN: “How’s that?”

VP: “He’s a likeable manager but he takes on too much himself. He has a team, and we also have an engineering firm overseas to support efforts that he’s not utilizing well.”

AN: “Have you told him?

VP: “I’m not sure what to say.”

AN: “You can 1) share your observation of his behavior and 2) ask him how he thinks his behavior might be impacting the people around him.”

VP: “That’s something I can do.”

AN: “Absolutely. What’s helpful about the mindset of acceptance is you’re already able to appreciate his good intentions and contributions to the department. You’re also able to feel annoyed about his behavior and at the same time withhold your judgment until you get more information. This is good because a direct report is often more able to hear criticism when you share your observation of their behavior rather than sharing your opinion about them as a person. At the same time, your growth opportunity and challenge are to try things and figure out the best course of action for him.”

What to do first

To give her a clear sequence for this, I explained, “The first step is to listen to your gut, notice and name your feelings. If you’ll recall, I asked you to first consider what he does that’s annoying. That feeling can point out something that needs to change. In this case, it did; your feeling pointed to the fact that his complaining was a burden to you and his colleagues.

Second step

The second step is to meet with him and share your observation of his behavior. You might say to him something like, ‘Each time we’ve spoken in the last few weeks, I’ve heard you talk about your stress levels. I’m worried about you. What’s going on there?’ Because you’ve pointed out his unproductive behavior, he’ll likely want to justify what’s happening. It’s important that you hear him out and affirm his feelings and experience as valid, even if you don’t agree with what he’s been doing.

“Just so you know, if you don’t affirm his experience as valid, he’ll get defensive and close himself off. To keep him open to learning and growing, you’ll use the inclination of your acceptance mindset to affirm and validate his experience. Because he feels valued and heard, he’ll have the headspace to talk about next steps.

Third step

The third step is to provide tools to help him take responsibility for his own growth. You might say, ‘I’d like to help you formulate a goal that helps you become more aware of your own feelings and actions and the impact they have your colleagues.’”

People don’t typically intend to burden others; they are more often unaware of the burden they’re feeling and how they’re inadvertently transmitting it to others. That’s because, without self-awareness, there is often an…

  1. Incongruence between our feelings and our nonverbal communication and an
  2. Inability to see how we’re impacting others.

To remedy this and create even more headspace for Tom to become aware of his feelings and actions, I suggested a tool to help him – a spreadsheet where he could track his emotions for 2-3 weeks and see what insights arise. To keep it simple, he dates the entry and three times a day – at 8 am, Noon and 3 pm – writes down how he feels (sad, glad, mad, scared or energized). In the last space or column, he writes any insights or questions that come to mind. Helping Tom to slow down and begin to notice his feelings provides not only personal headspace but also communicates the employee’s mental well-being is important to the organization’s overall well-being.

About mental health at work

Even before Covid, research revealed that employees expected managers to care about their emotional wellbeing. Before the pandemic, 1 in 10 Americans had symptoms of depression. Since then, the rate of mental illness had quadrupled.(2)

Many people believe that whatever their mental health challenges are, those challenges don’t belong in the workplace. However, more than 100 studies have shown that, when we have low psychological well-being, or face depression or general anxiety, our job productivity suffers.(3)

Of course, clinical depression and anxiety often require professional help. But we’ve all had moments of feeling overwhelmed or disconnected from other people, from our own values or from hope about the future. These emotions affect us in our jobs and they affect our colleagues. A leader’s compassion is no longer above and beyond, it’s vital to the organization’s culture of well-being.(4)

When a boss acknowledges a direct report’s pain and expresses compassion to alleviate that pain in a way that is meaningful for them, that’s cultural intelligence at work. Cultural intelligence is what enables us to accept others’ humanity and adapt our behavior to create an environment where our employees feel valued, heard and engaged. It also helps us to bust the belief that we should be immune to emotional and cognitive struggle and if only we try hard enough, the struggle will go away.

What happened

Eliza told me she shared her observation with Tom. She described the behavior she’d been seeing and told him she was worried about him and the impact he was having on his colleagues. She asked him to track his emotions and look for opportunities to delegate. After several weeks, Eliza noticed Tom had stopped complaining and was noticing opportunities to hand off some of his work. She told me her own and his efforts were worth it because he is more productive, feels valued and heard and is more supportive of his colleagues.

By accepting her direct report’s pain, rather than belittling or ignoring it, and providing a tool to help him become more aware and accepting of himself and his impact on others, Elliza was respecting his struggle and building trust. She is also creating a culturally safe and intelligent work environment for everyone.

Three-day challenge

Using a head, heart and hands approach, we can develop the self-awareness that allows us to experience more of our own and others’ humanity, as well as increase engagement, collaboration and innovation in our individual conversations and collective culture. For three consecutive days, notice, observe and experience the impact of Acceptance. Here’s how:

  1. HEAD: Observe what thoughts, words and actions correlate with the mindset of Acceptance.
    • Under what circumstances do you notice your curiosity about differences and commonalities people have?
    • Under what circumstance do you particularly notice that you’re unsure of what to do to build a bridge of understanding with another person?
    • What is said and done that makes you notice?
  2. HEART: Notice and name the feelings of yourself and others when there is acceptance.
    • How do you feel appreciating your own and others’ uniqueness and being able to withhold judgment until you have more information?
    • What was particularly heartbreaking or moving when you didn’t know what to do or say?
    • Under what conditions do you feel you can take a risk and try a course of action and see how it goes?
  3. HANDS: Now that you have reflected on acceptance and its impact on you and others, consider what actions you take to show the respect you feel.
    • What words and actions do you already use that help you show genuine respect for another’s experience?
    • Under what conditions do you feel safe taking a risk and trying different ways to engage with others?
    • What policies or practices need to be put in place in your home, community or workplace that allow people to share different perspectives and struggles so that they feel valued and heard?    –Amy S. Narishkin, PhD

References

  1. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
  2. Panchal, N. Kamal, R., Cox, C (Feb 10, 2021) “The implications of COVID-19 for mental health and substance use,” KFF: https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/
  3. Ford, M., Cerasoli, C., Higgins, J. & Decesare, A. (May 7, 2021) “Relationships between psychological, physical, and behavioural health and work performance: A review and meta-analysis,” Work & Stress: https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/twst20/current
  4. Toegel, G, Kilduff, M & Anand, N. (May 7, 2021) “Emotion helping by managers: An emergent understanding of discrepant role expectations and outcomes,” Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 56, No. 2: https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2010.0512
  5. Photo credit: Jonathan Daniels: https://unsplash.com/photos/78Fr6nZRDIc

Who do you know in your network that would like to learn more about how to be a compassionate leader? Please share the link with them.

How Self-Awareness Leads to Self-Confidence

How Self-Awareness Leads to Self-Confidence

Based on each of the five stages of Cultural Intelligence, I’m doing a series of blogs about how to promote mental health in the workplace and the engagement, collaboration and innovation that grow out of it. Last month I wrote a blog about how to move out of the developmental stage of Polarization; this month is about how to move out of Minimization to Acceptance. 

“I can be my own worst critic,” Bryant said to his Ambassador Group. Bryant, a technician at a manufacturing company was talking with his small working group of five employees learning together about how to apply cultural intelligence with both colleagues and clients. Cultural intelligence is the ability to adapt our words and actions to show compassion for ourselves and others amid different circumstances. It’s what enables everyone to feel more valued, heard and engaged at work.

I had just explained to his Ambassador Group that, very often in a conversation, how you show up for yourself is how you show up for others. Bryant put it together that he’s tough on himself, so he wondered how he might unconsciously be impacting his customers and even his family.

Bryant had taken the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI®), an online inventory that assesses an individual (and group’s) ability level to talk with people who are different. This is done by measuring five core mindsets and their associated behaviors; these progressive mindsets are: Denial, Polarization, Minimization, Acceptance or Adaptation. When Bryant found out he was in the middle stage of Minimization (where most commonly people are) he was surprised that he could inadvertently be minimizing himself as well as the people around him.

Bryant asked me, “What can I do to stop minimizing myself and other people? Maybe I’m so critical of myself because I don’t really know that much about myself.” I was impressed with his insight. I said, “That’s been my experience. As I’ve come around to accepting myself as I am, the good and bad parts, I’ve learned to be more accepting of others. But you’re right, you can’t accept (or appreciate) someone or something you don’t know.” We may think we know ourselves pretty darn well but read on and discover how Bryant found deeper self-awareness can lead to greater self-confidence.

Bryant asked, “How do I get to know myself better?”

How to develop more self-awareness

Developing self-awareness is the No. 1 learning opportunity for people in the stage of Minimization. I’d just finished explaining to Bryant’s Ambassador Group that self-awareness has two benefits. Self-awareness allows us to become more appreciative of ourselves as well as aware of the impact we have on our colleagues in meetings and other situations, because developing self-awareness in each team member is key to creating a culturally safe and intelligent work environment.

This is because, without self-awareness, there is often an:

  1. Incongruence between our feelings and our nonverbal communication and
  2. Inability to see how we are impacting others.

To develop his self-awareness, I suggested to Bryant that he keep a journal or spreadsheet and track his emotions. To keep it simple, he could date the entry and three times a day (for example at 8 am, Noon and 3 pm) write down how he felt – sad, glad, mad, scared or energized. In the last space or column, he could write any insights or questions that come to mind, if any.

What happened

Bryant embraced the process; he thought he’d keep his Self-Awareness Chart* for a few weeks and ended up maintaining it for few months. At each Ambassador Group meeting, he reported a new insight that he’d had about himself. One particularly intriguing insight was that, as he noticed and named his emotions on a regular basis, he realized his emotions weren’t good/bad or right/wrong; they were just there, informing him. As a result, he became less a judge and more an observer of his feelings.

The next week he noticed that, by being an observer rather than judger, he was more accepting of himself. He observed, “Rather than thinking so much about how I have missed the mark or shouldn’t feel or think a certain way, I can feel my feelings, take myself less seriously and be more accepting. I’m to see now how the chart makes perfect sense.

“What was interesting was that it was my sister who actually noticed the change in me first. My analogy is like a person trying to lose weight and not feeling like much has been achieved until they bump into someone they haven’t seen in a while who comments on the weight loss. My sister could see what I couldn’t. She saw that I was more confident, more appreciative of myself and pointed it out.

“Having a technical background, I always prefer to work with facts and figures, where there is no ambiguity. Although the chart is not a technical document as such, I found by musing over several weeks of data, I can in my mind revisit those instances and remember and see how my emotions changed, and also the progress over time (for similar scenarios).”

How it helped with work

Clearly, Bryant had learned a lot, so I wanted to see what else he’d noticed. I asked him, “How did tracking your emotions help with work?”

Bryant explained, “I would say the chart enabled me to manage my expectations better and see how to handle situations I had little control over better. For example, I’m pretty introverted, and it’s hard for me when I have to go in cold to a new situation to repair equipment. When I don’t know the people or situation, that makes me nervous, so I can get tough on myself. I saw that pattern in the chart.

Then, when I shared with you and the Ambassador Group how I felt about going into a new situation, you and the group brainstormed ways I can familiarize myself with the company ahead of time. Your solutions of researching the company on the Web to learn about them and reaching out for a zoom call with my contact ahead of time really helped me feel more welcome and in control when I arrived on site.”

By noticing and naming his feelings to himself and then sharing them with a trusted person or group, Bryant could adjust his attitude and actions to be more accepting of himself as well as the situation. From there, solutions started emerging. Bryant said, “Critical self-analysis can help keep standards high, but I believe there is a sweet spot; recording the data helped me readjust and find a balance, find my self-confidence.

“My view is that this is work in progress,” he added, “and the results of the core training you delivered are highlighted in my chart.”

Bryant clearly saw the value of journaling, which can be in the form of handwritten notes, filling in a spreadsheet or making audio recordings. It is important because reflecting on an experience can be as powerful, if not more powerful, than the actual event itself. The purpose of journaling is also to provide yourself with a dated record of events so that progress (and setbacks from which to learn) are documented, dots can be connected and patterns can be noticed. These patterns develop in us self-awareness. Self-awareness allows us to be more accepting, even appreciative, of ourselves and the people around us. This creates more sustainable, genuine working relationships leading to greater engagement, collaboration and innovation in any organization.  -Amy S. Narishkin, PhD

Three-day challenge

Discover the head, heart and hands technique we used last month too. Using it, we can develop the self-awareness that allows us to experience more of our own and others’ humanity, as well as increase engagement, collaboration and innovation in an organization. Here’s how: For three consecutive days, notice, observe and experience the impact of Minimization (of self and others).

    1. HEAD: Observe what words and actions correlate with the stage of Minimization.
      • Under what circumstances do you minimize yourself?
      • Who in your family, community or office gets minimized?
      • What is said or done to minimize?
    2. HEART: Today as you observe yourself and others, notice your own feelings and the reactions of others when you or they are minimized.
      • What feelings did you feel you saw in others and how did that observation make you feel?
      • What was particularly heartbreaking or moving?
      • How did this observation make you look at yourself and people differently?
    3. HANDS: Now that you have reflected on Minimization and its impact on you and others, what actions can you take to make sure people you encounter feel a sense of belonging?
      • What thoughts, words and actions can you use to show genuine respect for yourself?
      • What thoughts, words and actions can you use to show genuine respect for others?
      • What minimizing processes or systems could be challenged at home, in your office or in your community?

*If you’d like me to send you a sample Self-awareness chart, email Amy@EmpoweringPartners.com. Who do you know in your family, community or organization that would find this blog helpful? Please share!

References:

  1. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
  2. Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash
Reality Isn’t Harsh

Reality Isn’t Harsh

“I’m just being realistic,” said the VP of marketing and sales.

“Not really,” I said. He looked confused. “What I mean is, there may be more to the situation than you currently realize.” I went on to explain that when we’re stressed out, worried or angry, like he was, many of us fall back to the stage of Polarization.

The VP and I were doing his IDI® Debrief, “Polarization” is one of five stages of development on the continuum of Cultural Intelligence (IDI stands for Intercultural Development Inventory®), and we were talking about where he was on the continuum in that difficult moment.

The IDI reveals that participants are in one of five stages of development on the continuum of Cultural Intelligence. The stages are: Denial, Polarization, Minimization, Acceptance and Adaptation.(1) He (let’s call him “George”) and his colleagues had taken the IDI because they wanted to know their individual and organization’s ability to engage people with different backgrounds in conversation.

Polarization defined

People and groups in Polarization tend to be overly critical of themselves and others; they think and work from an “us versus them” viewpoint. This binary mindset sees things as good/bad, right/wrong and black/white. I explained that “if we’re thinking things are black and white, that’s not reality. There’s typically more to the story that has not yet been realized or considered.”

The No. 1 growth opportunity for the mindset of Polarization is learning to see the gray areas in people and situations. I said, “If you think about it, none of us is actually good or bad. We’re all a mix, a bit Jekyll and a bit Hyde.” George agreed. When things are seen from a binary mindset, the takeaway tends to be a harsh judgment rather than reality. However, when we slow down and get more information, we are getting more of the truth and able to develop a shared understanding with another. It’s then that we get a fuller and bigger picture. With greater understanding, our gaze softens, compassion grows and we see opportunities for innovation we hadn’t seen before.

An example

I asked George if he could give me an example of where he was feeling things were pretty bleak, with no opportunity. He gave me an example that I paraphrased for him, “It sounds like you don’t want to hire someone away from a good job because you don’t want to put them in a precarious position in your start up. Did I get that right?” He said, “Yes.” “So,” I went on, “if I look for that gray area, let’s call it a dove gray, let me wonder aloud with you: Does your scenario assume everyone is happy in their job or wouldn’t be interested in possibly joining an intriguing effort to launch a new brand?”

He said, “Yes, I hadn’t thought about those possibilities. I see what you mean, I had already made decisions for people I haven’t even met yet.”

I said, “The truth is, reality isn’t harsh.” So I asked George, “As you think about your professional goals, what do you need to do professionally to move out of the polarization mindset so that you can get a broader perspective — so you can practice seeing that softer gray area?” He wasn’t sure. So I asked him, “Where’s you happy place at work?”

“In my 30-year career in sales,” he said, “because of the pandemic, I’ve never spent this much time at home. What I really enjoy is being at a customer [‘s workplace], observing and perceiving needs and translating that into actionable steps.”

I asked, “What’s keeping you from traveling (observing public health restrictions, of course)? Is your boss against it?” He said, “No, I just hadn’t thought about it.” I asked, “What’s your ideal? How many customers would you like to visit this month?” He said, “ideally two.” “Can that be your goal?” I asked, “that you’d like to develop a broader perspective and do more of what you love at work?” He agreed.

“So to make that goal measurable and doable, you’ll know you’ve made progress when you reach out to two clients and make appointments to see them and clear your calendar for those trips this month,” I suggested.

I recommended that he keep record on a spreadsheet of the progress with the client, including the part about how he’s getting broader perspective in communicating with them. He thought that was a good idea.

To wrap up the meeting, I asked him, “What word would you use to describe how you’re feeling right now – now that we’ve done this work?” He said, “Better. No, actually the word is, ‘lighter.’ I feel like I’ve put down a weight.”

To experience greater productivity and engagement at work, we need to discover that softer gray area, get that greater perspective and grow compassion for ourselves. Compassion begins within us. Cultural intelligence is the ability to appreciate ourselves as well as others and adapt our behavior to show genuine respect. It is difficult to feel and show respect for others when we haven’t discovered our own humanity first.

Our first step is to become aware of how we may inadvertently be judging ourselves. This three-day challenge can empower you to notice, observe and recognize the impact of Polarization on yourself and others. Using our head, heart and hands, we can develop the self-awareness that allows us to experience more of our own and others’ humanity, as well as increasing engagement, collaboration and innovation for the organization.

Three-day Challenge

Over the next three days we are noticing, observing and experiencing the impact of Polarization.

  1. HEAD: Observe what words and actions correlate with the stage of Polarization.
    • Under what circumstances do you judge yourself?
    • Who in your family, community or office gets alienated?
    • What is said or done that alienates?
    • How did this observation make you look at people differently?
  2. HEART: Today as you observe yourself and others, notice your own feelings and the reactions of others when you or they use polarizing language.
    • What feelings did you observe in others and how did it make you feel?
    • What was particularly heartbreaking or moving about polarization?
  3. HANDS: Now that you have reflected on the polarization and its impact on you and others, what actions can you take to make sure people you encounter feel valued and heard?
    • What thoughts, words and actions can you use to show genuine respect for yourself (the Acceptance and Adaptation stages of the IDI)?
    • What thoughts, words and actions can you use to show genuine respect for others (Acceptance and Adaptation)?
    • What polarizing processes or systems can be challenged at home, in your community or at your office?
    • How could you learn more about the impact of systems that inadvertently sideline or silence groups of people?  –Amy S. Narishkin, PhD

References:

  1. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
  2. Image credit: @Angel Balashev, https://unsplash.com/photos/Ae5OJ5L-QI4

Who do you know in your network that would find this blog helpful? Please share this blog with them.

How to Deal with an Ignorant Remark in Five Steps

How to Deal with an Ignorant Remark in Five Steps

“I struggle with people who make ignorant remarks,” Larry explained. Larry has his own internationally renowned HR consulting firm. “You know, my work activities bring me around to lots of different places, meeting lots of different people in North America. With all the talk in the media, I’ll get into a discussion about things like race, ethnicity and heritage. What blows me away is that I actually bump into folks who think racism doesn’t exist, that it’s just a construct of the media. That makes my blood boil.”

Larry went on to say, “So occasionally I’d challenge their views, ‘Well, can you imagine growing up in the 60’s? There was still lynching going on when I was a child. That wasn’t the media. That was reality.’ They’ll say, ‘But that was a long time ago.’ So I’ll say, ‘If your grandparents were subjected to this, it’s still very much a part of your reality – your family story.’ I’m really challenged with not losing my temper.” he told me. “But if I don’t challenge it, I’m complicit with their line of thinking. So I’ve backed off on a lot of discussions, now, because there just doesn’t seem to be solution.”

Amy: “That’s a tough spot to be in. Are you wondering how to respond?”

Larry: “Yes. How do I respond to an ignorant remark like ‘there’s no such thing as racism’?”

Amy: “It sounds like you want to speak up but you feel like there’s almost no point in arguing because it’s not going to change their mind. They’ll just want to defend their position, and no one wins. Whereas, if you remain silent, that suggests you agree with what the person just said, right? Ugh!”

Larry: “Exactly! So what do I do?”.

Amy: “Can I share an example of what you might do?”

Larry: “Absolutely.”

Amy: “I remember sitting across the table from a CEO at a coffee shop a few years ago. He knew about my work, so he said to me, ‘I just don’t understand why those people take a knee on the football field. They’re not being respectful.’ I said, ‘I get that. Our flag means a lot to me too. My husband, four kids and I rode our bikes, along with 20 of our French cousins, 335 miles from Paris to the beaches of Normandy over a six-day period in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-day. And do you know what struck me the most about our journey? It was all the Allied flags along the way!

“You know how, in the U.S., the American flag always flies higher than all the other flags it’s posted with? Well in France, throughout Normandy, the Allied flags – British, Canadian, French and American – all fly at the same height. That’s how much the French still appreciate the sacrifice we made to help secure their freedom. Our flag means that kind of freedom.” The CEO nodded and said, “You get it.”

So I asked him, ‘May I offer another perspective?’ He said, “Sure.” I wondered aloud with him, ‘What might it be like for a man – who is not on the field in his football uniform but on his bike in jeans – to be perceived as a threat most every day of his life? Just driving his car, he’s in danger. Could it be that he doesn’t have the same experience under the American flag that you and I have?… I actually wonder if taking a knee is maybe a quiet respectful way to protest the fear he feels for his life?’

“The CEO was quiet,” I told Larry. “Then the CEO said, ‘I hadn’t thought of it that way. That’s a good point.”

Connecting, not curing

I could tell Larry was really listening. I continued, suggesting that both these stories – honoring the Allies of World War II and Colin Kaepernick’s quite protest – can have the power to change thinking, but the approaches were different. I told him, “In the scenario you shared, there’s a possibility that the person will feel attacked, maybe even feel blame or shame. When we approach a conversation with an attitude of curing rather than connecting, the person will likely shut down the discussion. That was the core point I hoped Larry would take away from this conversation.

Curing communicates…

  • Something’s wrong with you but I’m okay
  • You’re ignorant; I’m enlightened
  • You’re wrong; I’m right.

Connecting communicates that we (both parties) can…

  • Work toward mutuality with shared understanding
  • Feel solidarity and compassion for one another
  • Ensure we both feel valued, heard and engaged.

Connecting is cultural intelligence. A key construct of cultural intelligence is appreciating another person’s perspective and adapting our behavior to show genuine respect. In U.S. society, and in many of the organizations in it, competitiveness is a cultural characteristic. And if we’re not culturally intelligent, that competitiveness can get in the way of productive and genuine relationships. Because of this, we can get caught up in trying to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong in a conversation. We can get attached to the idea that someone is a loser and someone is a winner, and we want to be the winner.

But in that either/or set-up, one person wins and the other loses. That’s a problem because the outcome can never be 100% positive. If anyone loses, both parties lose. They both lose the opportunity to build a relationship. People and families lose connection; organizations lose productivity.

So how do we all win? We know we’ve really “won” when compassion and understanding is felt by all; oneself and our colleague, client, friend or family member.

Five steps for responding

To make sure you both win, there are five steps I’d recommend you take when you find you’re in a situation like Larry’s:

  1. Notice their feelings of frustration or fear
  2. Hear the person out
  3. Recognize it’s not a personal attack on you but that they’re talking about their own experience
  4. Paraphrase what they said, affirming their experience, even if it’s  different from yours
  5. Ask permission to offer a different perspective.

I said to Larry, “I noticed when you were asking the question that you were pretty frustrated so I heard you out. Did you notice after you shared your story, I paraphrased your feelings about the predicament you were in? I only offered a different perspective after you gave me permission.

Larry said, “I see it now.”

“That was intentional,” I told him. “It could be perceived as manipulative, but it wasn’t. I actually felt compassion for your situation because I’m often in it. Because of my work, people will say things to me that hurt my heart but I want to stay in relationship with them. It seems to work well. Does that help you?”

Larry said, “It does. I see now that there’s another way.”

Words like “compassion,” “feelings” and “belonging” may resonate with you as words that should be used at home with family or in places of worship, not at the office. However, it’s the exclusion of these words in our work organizations and greater society that marginalizes entire groups of people. It can minimize or even rule out important experiences we can all learn from and stifle the communication and innovation that move us forward in life and business. Just imagine the opportunities for genuine connection and vital action when we slow down, show compassion and work in solidarity with one another.  –Amy S. Narishkin, PhD

  1. Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

*In a Series of interactive workshops with Dr. Narishkin, “Awkward to Awesome: Boost Productivity & Diversity with Cultural Intelligence,” you can acquire the skills and attitude needed to help you and your organization ensure that no one is side-lined or silenced and everyone can contribute and feel valued. Why wouldn’t you want your whole team working at their top level of productivity in a low to no drama environment? This is the outcome for culturally intelligent organizations.

Unions or Unity: A CEO’s Dilemma

Unions or Unity: A CEO’s Dilemma

CEO: “The workers withdrew the petition!”

AMY: “What does that mean for the company?”

CEO: “There’s not going to be an election to decide whether or not to unionize.”

AMY: “So that’s good news?”

CEO: “Yeah, it is. What a relief!”

What happened

Three weeks earlier, a small group of factory workers had met with the union representatives at a local bar. Team members were encouraged to sign the union’s card. When the union had enough signed cards, they told the National Labor Relations Board they had enough people to form a union. A week later, when the company that owned the factory received notification, they were required to post notification that there was a petition to form a union. The petition didn’t arrive until Monday, but the CEO got word on the Friday afternoon before. He was surprised and hurt.

CEO: “I’m so mad,” he said. “I’ve worked so hard to create a culture of open communication. I walk the factory floor and make myself available throughout the day every day. Why would they do this to me, especially after they just got a bonus?”

AMY: “Do you just want me to listen or to problem-solve with you?”

CEO: “Problem-solve.”

AMY: “Do you recall in our corporate IDI Debrief Session* we reviewed the five stages of cultural intelligence?” I said, referring to the workshop I’d done with company executives a few weeks before. “The data showed your leadership team is in the middle stage: Minimization. Remember that in that stage, people and groups value commonalities and de-emphasize differences, a strong indicator that there’s a lack of deeper understanding of differing perspectives. As a result, minority perspectives are typically not fully heard, making them feel sidelined or silenced. This can really impact overall engagement, collaboration and productivity.”(1)

I reminded him of what I said in the workshop: “When people and groups don’t feel fully heard, frustration and anger tend to grow. Under that stress, people inadvertently fall back to the earlier cultural intelligence stage – Polarization – where those same people become overly critical of their situation and work from an ‘us versus them’ mindset.”

CEO: “Right, so I’m starting to see how this relates to unionization.”

AMY: “Yes. The group attempting to unionize wasn’t feeling valued and heard. Because they felt alienated, they started working from an ‘us versus them’ mindset, because they felt management wasn’t listening. They sought out someone who would: the union.”

“But right now, that’s how they feel. How do you feel? Are you feeling alienated, like it’s ‘you versus them’?”

CEO: “Definitely.”

AMY: “What if, instead of falling back into that ‘me versus them’ mindset yourself, you worked from a place of cultural intelligence? If you were to approach the situation with genuine curiosity, what would you do? Don’t try to answer now – just think on it.”

The subject was dropped for the time being as the CEO contemplated those questions.

All-hands meeting

The next morning was an all-hands meeting with everyone in the factory. The lawyer had told the CEO what he wasn’t allowed to say, which didn’t leave him with much could say. That was frustrating. But he worked to stay open and curious and thought about what actually could be said – and even more importantly how it could be said.

While he could say very little in the meeting, he realized he could state the subject, ask key the employees to consider key questions, repeat important words for emphasis and allow for pregnant silences.

The other employees got the message and started encouraging the organizers to think about the potential impacts of their actions and to look for other options for getting their voices heard with management. In the meantime, the CEO also hedged his bets and met with outside consultants and lawyers. Together, they came up with contingency plans for outsourcing the work if need be, which further empowered the CEO’s position by giving him some leverage.

The CEO continued his normal approach to leadership – regularly walking the factory floor and praising his people, shaking hands and listening a lot.

Two days later, the CEO shared his progress with me. He felt open and genuine again but still didn’t know how to end this attempt to unionize.

AMY: “I know you can’t directly ask, but how else: Who on that team doesn’t feel valued and heard and why not?”

CEO: “That’s a good question. I need to find out. How do I do that?”

What a leader can do

I told the CEO that there are two organizational factors in play. First, a culturally intelligent leader needs to be aware that, after years of being belittled under a system of Minimization, minorities may hesitate to speak up for fear of retaliation, social isolation or job loss even when a manager asks them to speak up.

Second, that in hierarchical contexts like his workplace, people of majority culture who are in Minimization often unconsciously assume an attitude of being the people “in the know.” Because they tend to be the knower, rather than the learner, they don’t listen well. However, if they adopt an attitude of learner, they can actively listen and can get to the bottom of things. I suggested to the CEO that, when he feels like he’s not making any progress, he STOP. That’s an acronym for…

  1. Slow down
  2. Take 3 deep breaths
  3. Observe your own reaction and their hurt
  4. Proceed with genuine curiosity and wonder

When he slowed down and thought more about it, the CEO realized he had assumed people trusted him. He didn’t really know his employees’ perspectives, nor did he know why they were frustrated and angry.

It also became clear to him that while – according to the union rules – he wasn’t allowed to talk, he could deeply listen and learn.

What happened

The following week, the CEO spent the better part of his days on the factory floor listening to this team of people and watching them work. They’d ask him questions and he’d have to remind them, “I can’t say anything to you while we’re under this petition, but I can listen to you. I can’t agree, disagree or affirm anything, but I’m here. I’m listening.”

As the workers chatted while they worked, the CEO took mental note. He worked alongside them, helping where he could. Eventually they started talking more naturally. He heard them complain about their immediate boss and the aggressive behavior they’d experienced. That turned out to be the root cause of their distress. The CEO realized that he needed to remove that manager and temporarily take over managing this team; that’s what he did.

Two weeks later, the team met again at the local bar. They no longer had enough team members to sign union cards.

The following Monday, the petition to unionize was withdrawn; there have been no further attempts to unionize. The CEO continues to listen deeply at all levels of his organization.

Cultural intelligence is the ability to appreciate another’s perspective and use words and actions to show genuine respect for them. When we adapt our words and actions to show genuine respect for others, we are better able to hear and learn how they are impacted by the system in place – and they’re more likely to share their perspective with us.

Our organizational wellbeing develops one culturally intelligent conversation at a time. It is within individual conversations that we are able to pick up on patterns of why others, including employees, may be feeling side-lined or silenced. Those conversations are the foundation on which leaders can build connection, overcome individual and collective feelings of isolation and create systems that benefit everybody.

When leaders are alert and do not allow their organization to default to Minimization, they decrease drama and develop capacity in themselves and their organization for ever greater appreciation of others, increasing engagement, collaboration and innovation for everyone.     -Amy S. Narishkin, PhD

*The IDI or Intercultural Development Inventory® is a 50-item online questionnaire that measures both individual and organization’s stage of development and ability to navigate cross-cultural conversations. As a Certified Administrator, Dr. Amy Narishkin provides the IDI® results and does a Debrief, which becomes an ongoing resource to guide individual and corporate development.

References:

  1. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
  2. Photo credit: Justin Wilkens, https://unsplash.com/photos/dq3ujEmzV0s
A Hire Power: How to Really Get to Know a Candidate

A Hire Power: How to Really Get to Know a Candidate

“Almost everything about interviews, as they are now, reinforces a hiring manager’s bias and conceals the real person,” said Katie Magoon, HR guru and CEO of People Solutions Center. When I asked her to elaborate, she said, “That’s because…

  • One hour is hardly enough time to get to know someone
  • Managers haven’t been trained to recognize their bias
  • We don’t give managers questions to help them
  • Managers don’t know what answers to look for.

So how does a hiring manager really get to know a candidate? This was the question that prompted Katie and me to talk about the importance of using cultural intelligence in the hiring process to find the right candidate for a job, to truly see and hear the person being interviewed. By putting our heads together, we discovered there are three elements an interviewer needs to really see the person their talking with:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. A structured interview
  3. Cultural intelligence.

Step 1 – Self-awareness

Katie explained that we humans make 11 judgments about people within the first seven seconds, creating instant bias. “That means by the time you’ve said hello and commented on the weather, you’ve already created a story about the person you’re interviewing.” Then if you’re not aware that your bias is in play, everything in that interview will confirm what you already think you know about that person.

The first step in creating smarter hiring practices is to recognize that every viewpoint is a view from just one point. Unless we recognize our personal and cultural viewpoint, we will not be able to get past our own way of thinking and seeing. We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we want to see them, and then may miss something that’s right in front of us.

When we lack self-awareness, we only see the things that confirm our assumptions about a person or situation; that’s called confirmation bias.

Author, Brian McLaren explains, “In a matter of seconds we ask ourselves, what do I already believe? Does this new idea or piece of information confirm what I already think? Does it fit in the frame I’ve already constructed? If so, I can accept it. If not, I simply reject it as unreasonable or unbelievable. I do this not to be ignorant but to be efficient. My brain (without my conscious awareness and permission) makes incredibly quick decisions. Ideas that fit in are easy and convenient to accept, and they give me pleasure because they confirm what I already think.(1)

“When ideas don’t fit easily, requiring me to think and rethink, that’s incredibly hard work,” McLaren continues. “My brain has a lot going on, so it interprets that hard work as pain and wants to save me from that extra reframing work. So it hits the Reject button.”(1)

That means an interviewer may reject a more than qualified candidate because they’re unaware of all the snap judgements their brain is making about straight teeth, gender, race, voice, school, extra-curricular activities, ability to relate to people, accents and names. For example, Allison and Matthew get 50% more call backs than Laquisha and Jamal, even if their résumés are identical. Candidates with foreign accents get less call backs too; they’re often judged as less savvy.(2) As a result, interviewers inadvertently weed out the diversity of background and diversity of thought that their company may need in order to appeal to a broader market or to realize more innovation.

After becoming aware of your bias, it’s important to set up the interview to expand your understanding of the person.

Step 2 – A structured interview

“A structured interview is key,” Katie said. It’s important to take the time to identify the values that are essential to the department or organization. Then more specifically for the job, best practice is to define the competency, skills and motivations needed for the job, Katie explained. For example, for a customer service representative, a core value may be to ensure that every customer feels valued and heard. And the competency, skills and motivations may be…

  • Be people-oriented and gregarious
  • Have the skills to listen actively and problem solve under stress
  • Enjoy talking with people.

I wondered how an interviewer would know if a candidate is being real or faking it for the interview. Faking is stretching the truth to protect your image or ingratiate yourself with the interviewer. In fact, 90% of college seniors engage in some kind of faking.(2)

Katie told me that candidates often do tell interviewers what they think they want to hear, which is why it’s important that the interviewer ask behavior-based questions. That way, even if the candidate is faking the story, they’ll still be explaining the actions they’d take and results they’d get from within their own context. Because they’ll only be able to talk from their own frame of reference, the actions and results they describe will reflect what they know. Also, you can ask follow-up questions that go deeper into details which helps you understand their actual depth of experience.

Behavior-based questions give the interviewer a good idea of what candidates have excelled and struggled with in the past. The principle is that past behavior can predict future behavior. The way a candidate worked in the past signifies how they’ll work in the future.

“The goal is to encourage a candidate to share a series of stories,” Katie said. Stories will also help the interviewer slow down and decouple from the assumptions in their head because they’ll be taking the time to get to know the other person. We can use behavior-based questions like…

  • “Tell me about a time when you were working under pressure and how you handled it.”
  • “Describe a time when you disagreed with a colleague and what you did.”
  • “Give me an example of when you worked successfully with a team and what happened.”

The interviewer is looking for key information in the candidate’s story that helps the interviewer understand their behavior. To help her remember what to look for, Katie uses the acronym S.T.A.R…

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

Katie warned that it can be tempting to get caught up in the Situation and Task of the candidate’s story, but what the interviewer really wants to focus on are the Action and Results. These are what express what the candidate really knows and understands. They allow the interviewer to know and see what the person is really is about. To get a deeper understanding of the person, the interviewer can ask for more detail about their actions and results.

To understand the kinds of actions and results you’re looking for, based on the team’s values, create an answer key by giving the questions to your current employees and see how the star performers at the company answer the same questions.(2)

Consistency is key with this style of interview. Standardizing the process also helps interviewers and recruiters make fairer comparisons between candidates. Prepare to ask each candidate the same key questions to reduce confirmation bias and really see the candidate’s potential.

Step 3 – De-center with cultural intelligence

To really see the candidate, their context and their potential, an interviewer needs not just solid questions but cultural intelligence. Each tip and how-to in this blog is offered from the perspective of cultural intelligence, the ability to appreciate another and change behavior to show genuine respect for their perspective and background.

To appreciate another’s perspective, we must first recognize our own biases so that we can hold them more lightly. Katie pointed out that, if you feel judgment coming up in the interview and you’re thinking, “This person is awful” or “This person is wonderful,” that’s all bias. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s all judgment and blocks us from getting more information about the person.

Next, to de-center our thinking and get to a place of higher understanding, we need to slow down the conversation. Take a breath. Wonder what you might be missing. Active listening can help. After you ask a behavior-based or other open-ended question…

  1. Hear the candidate out. Don’t interrupt. Use listening strategies like eye contact, a quiet body and some nodding. You might also say: “Uh huh” and “Okay.” Then when there is a quiet moment, you can encourage them to continue and…
  2. Label their emotions. This is a key step for creating a safe space for candidates to reveal more of who they really are. This is the step that communicates you’re interested and you care. You can use these phrases with emotion words:
    • It seems like…
    • It sounds like…
    • It looks like…
      • For example, we can use prompts such as:
    • It seems like you’re inspired.
    • It sounds like you’re confused.
    • It looks like you’re angry.
      • Interviewers (listener-facilitators) may need to label the candidate’s (speaker’s) emotions in that way two to three times to get the whole story. Allow for quiet think times, particularly for more introverted candidates. In the U.S., we tend to tolerate only four seconds of silence before we feel the need to talk. Sometimes I count to 10 in my head to help me allow for a few more seconds of quiet. When you feel they are finished sharing their story, you can…
  3. Seek understanding. You can use words such as:
    • What happened that made you feel so _________.
    • You’re feeling so _________ because?
    • What caused this?
      • You can specifically use these questions to encourage the candidate to elaborate on actions and results.

Your goal as an interviewer is to feel a measure of respect and appreciation for the candidate, even if they’re not the person for the job. That feeling of respect (or connection) for who they are and what they can contribute, even if not for the role you have in mind, is your indication that you’ve gotten a fairly accurate read on the candidate. And they might be the right person for a position that opens up in the future.

Self-awareness, a structured interview and cultural intelligence are the keys that allow you to de-center your perspective and stay open to seeing differently. It ensures you don’t miss opportunities that may be sitting right in front of you. The right hire allows the hiring manager the peace of mind that they can count on the person they’ve hired to exceed expectations and be an asset to your organization.     -Amy Narishkin, PhD ©2021

References:

  1. McLaren, B (2019) Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) Self-published e-book. https://cac.org/confirmation-bias-2021-03-02/?utm_source=cm&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dm&utm_content=summary
  2. Grant, A. (April 20, 2020) Worklife with Adam Grant: “Reinventing the Job Interview.” Podcast: https://www.ted.com/talks/worklife_with_adam_grant_reinventing_the_job_interview?language=en
  3. Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/vzfgh3RAPzM – Christina@wocintechchat.com
Leadership Enlightened: How to Upend the Status Quo

Leadership Enlightened: How to Upend the Status Quo

He thought he was doing everything right. The General Manager, James and his organization were…

  • Hiring people of color
  • Paying interns which encouraged people from more diverse backgrounds to apply because they would not need to depend on parents for financial support
  • Diversifying their board
  • Sourcing information from diverse voices
  • Providing diversity training in sexual harassment and understanding race
  • Studying pro-diversity hiring practices

But even all that was not enough to keep his employees of color from going to the Board of Directors with a list of racist incidents that had occurred at work. Their allegation was that James chose to maintain the status quo of “white supremacy” in the system. [“White supremacy” refers to a social system in which white people enjoy structural advantages, or privilege over other ethnic groups, on both collective and individual levels, despite formal legal equality.]

James, who is white, was removed from his position. By the time he and I met, he had recovered enough from this personal and professional blow to talk with me about what happened. So how can a leader avoid hitting a wall like this in the first place?

Where the problem lies

To be an effective leader, you have to be systems-aware. Dr. Edward Deming (1900–93), renowned statistician, engineer, author and management consultant, argued that 94 percent of problems are caused by the system, not the individual.(1)

That doesn’t mean James is off the hook. It means he had a responsibility to ensure that the systems under his watch create safety and belonging for everyone. The practices and policies James listed above are the most explicit but least powerful elements of systemic change. For change that actually transforms an organization and upends the status quo, leaders need to look at the implicit systems: the mental models that powerfully influence the way we think, talk and act with one another.

To see the implicit systems that influence the way we think, talk and act, we need to recognize a particular mental model in play within our culture: minimization. A full 67 percent of people who take the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI) worldwide are right in the middle of the five stages of Cultural Intelligence, the stage called “Minimization.”(2) What that means is, on average, two-thirds of the people in any organization minimize their own experience and that of others. And because minimizing our own and other’s experience is so normalized worldwide, we’re typically unaware that we’re doing this.

With minimization in play, leaders can be woefully ignorant of the needs and assets of minorities communities. That lack of awareness allows them to inadvertently reinforce and perpetuate the status quo in their organization. Minimization shows up in two distinct ways. First, the people in power lack the self- and system-awareness they need to see how they are complicit with the dominant culture in the ways that they think, talk and act. As a result, professional and social circles of dominant culture discourage people from talking explicitly about the impact minimization has on people.

Second, non-dominant culture group members are very aware of the system but go-along-to-get-along because they are not in positions of power and therefore hesitant or fearful to speak up or out. This is how one group of people ends up being elevated over another, as happened in James’ workplace. To counteract this systemic problem, people and organizations need cultural intelligence.

Cultural intelligence is the ability to appreciate another’s perspective and use words and actions to show genuine respect for them. When we adapt our words and actions to show genuine respect for others, we are better able to hear and learn how they are impacted by the system in place – and they’re more likely to share their perspective with us.

What leaders can do

To upend systemic minimization of people, a culturally intelligent leader can develop and demonstrate a growth mindset. Leaders and their organization can take the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI) to get the base-line empirical data (not personal opinion) needed to determine their organization’s ability level to navigate cross-cultural conversations, create a common vocabulary and communicate across the organization that diverse perspectives and a culture of belonging are priorities and assets to the organization.

The leader can then use that data to develop an Intercultural Development Plan® to set goals for collective growth and develop the awareness of how people think, talk and act with one another.

Because, statistically, most leaders in power often lack the self- and system-awareness of their impact on others, they don’t have the skills, vocabulary and practice talking and learning with people who have been historically silenced. The solution, the kind of learning that benefits every employee as well as the organization and its bottom line, is to set up mechanisms that grow both the leader’s and the employees’ capacity for listening and learning.

Three examples of those mechanisms are…

  1. Recognize that retention is based on positive experiences, not avoiding negative ones. Across the board, employees of color not only encounter more negative incidents than their white counterparts, but they also miss out on the experiences that leave them feeling good about themselves and their employers. This means minority employees not only have more reasons to look into leaving but also fewer reasons to stay than their white colleagues. The gap in positive experiences accounts for as much as 10-15% of the difference in attrition rates between whites and employees of color. To create positive experiences so that employees feel seen and heard, managers can encourage direct reports to take part in decision-making, share effective practices and help each other get the job done.(2)
  2. Utilize career mapping to communicate value. Career mapping is a strategy for engaging employees in decision-making. In 1-to-1 meetings, managers can connect with their direct reports to discuss their professional goals and potential career advancement opportunities, resources and education available to them within the business. Open up the discussion through quarterly or bi-annual surveys asking the employee to identify their pain points with their current role, thoughts on leadership and the ideal role in the organization they want to work toward. This strategy encourages employees to share their passions and speak up about what it will take to retain them. It also communicates the investment in them, with discussion of their long-term future with the organization.(4)
  3. Use listening circles. With roots in indigenous cultures around the world, listening circles provide people an opportunity to speak and listen to one another in an environment of safety where everyone feels valued and heard. This form of dialogue emphasizes storytelling to cultivate empathy and can help communities process the personal and collective impact of emotionally charged events.(5)

A culturally intelligent leader recognizes they need to be aware that, after years of being belittled under the system of Minimization, people of color, women and those who are differently-abled may hesitate to speak up for fear of retaliation, social isolation or job loss even when asked by a manager to speak up. Listening Circles can help with that.

Trust for leadership is built over time within open authentic two-way conversations where each person feels valued, heard and engaged. James recommends that leaders learn to get comfortable with and set a tone for…

  • Not knowing, not having all the answers.
  • Being willing to learn.
  • Dropping defensiveness and saying, ‘I don’t know.’
  • Not avoiding conflict but instead leaning into conversations, even if doing so makes us feel temporarily awkward.
  • Looking inward to reflect on what the organization can do better by its employees.

For an example of how to build that trust and the steps to take within a cross-cultural conversation, read my blog post, “Hear Me Now?

When leaders are alert and do not allow their organization to default to Minimization, they decrease drama and develop capacity in themselves and their organization for ever-greater appreciation of others, increasing engagement, collaboration and innovation for everyone.        -Amy Narishkin, PhD ©2021

References:

  1. Deming, E. (2012) The System of Profound Knowledge. https://deming.org/demings-system-of-profound-knowledge/#:~:text=The%20System%20Of%20Profound%20Knowledge,theory%20of%20knowledge%20and%20psychology.
  2. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
  3. Norlander, P., Does, S. & Shih, M. (working paper) Deprivation at work: Positive workplace experiences and the racial gap in quit intentions. https://www.anderson.ucla.edu/documents/sites/faculty/review%20publications/research/Norlander-Does-Shih_Positive_Empirical_Anderson_Review.pdf
  4. Johnson, T. (Jun 29, 2018) “The real problem with tech professionals: High turnover. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinessdevelopmentcouncil/2018/06/29/the-real-problem-with-tech-professionals-high-turnover/#3c89c90d4201
  5. The Co-Intelligence Institute. Listening Circles. https://www.co-intelligence.org/P-listeningcircles.html
  6. Photo credit – https://unsplash.com/photos/YOtOiHdwPqo?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink

 

 

Do you want to know if your organization is in Minimization? The Intercultural Development Inventory® is a 50-item online questionnaire that measures both individual and organizational ability to navigate cross-cultural conversations. To learn your organization’s level of Cultural Intelligence contact, Dr. Amy Narishkin, a Certified Administrator of the IDI®. She provides the results and does a Debrief, which becomes an ongoing resource to guide individual and corporate development. Learn more at https://www.empoweringpartners.com/

Lesson Learned the Hard Way

Lesson Learned the Hard Way

“I thought we were doing everything right,” James told me. “Now I’m afraid I won’t be able to get another job because of the current cancel culture.”

“Cancel culture” is a pop-culture term that basically means canceling people out – ostracizing or withdrawing support of people or companies that have done something deemed offensive.  James, who is white, had been removed as general manager of a non-profit after “allegedly perpetuating a legacy of structural racism.”

Employees of color had gone to the Board of Directors with a list of racist incidents saying that James had done nothing to create the kind of inclusive environment where such incidents couldn’t happen. The employees said he chose to maintain the status quo of “white supremacy” in the system. [“White supremacy” refers to a social system in which white people enjoy structural advantages (privilege) over other ethnic groups, on both a collective and individual level, despite formal legal equality.]

Obviously, James did not see that coming, and he was devastated. By the time he and I met, after six months of soul-searching, he had recovered enough from this personal and professional blow to see that he could bring a much-needed asset to his next organization: cultural intelligence. Within his sphere of influence, he will be able to help his fellow whites see and dismantle systems that marginalize entire groups of people and that stifle retention and promotion of people of color, women and those who are differently-abled.

Here’s what we talked about

Amy: “What was the hardest part of being let go?”

James: “Initially, it was hard not to see myself as all bad. In time, I began to remember that I’d done some good and to see where I could do better. I’m still learning.”

Amy: “Earlier, you said you had thought you were doing everything right before all that happened, why was that?”

James: “We were…

  • Hiring people of color
  • Paying our interns which encouraged people from more diverse backgrounds to apply because they would not need to depend on parents for financial support
  • Diversifying our board
  • Sourcing information from diverse voices
  • Providing diversity training in sexual harassment and understanding race
  • Studying various pro-diversity hiring practices

Amy: “Those are good first steps. What do you think was missing?”

James said he realized that, though the board was becoming diversified and the organization was hiring people of color, they were not promoting those employees into leadership roles. As a result, there was not anyone in the management circle to challenge the dominant cultural perspective about the way they were doing things. For example, they had never considered the use of language that would appeal to diverse candidates in job postings or that would have broader fundraising appeal. That hindered them from hearing employees’ requests for training resources that would enable them to move to the next level.

“Because there was not anyone to challenge the way we were thinking at the top, we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” he told me.

James: “It’s interesting that when you work for a liberal organization, you assume you’re doing the right thing.”

Amy: “How so?”

James: “In our organization, the mission was to educate the public as citizens in a democratic society. Our mission was good, so we assumed we must be doing the right thing. I mean, we were holding people in positions of power accountable so we must be doing the right thing, right? Wrong. What I realize now is we were telling everyone else about the need for diversity and the value of social justice but not having that conversation ourselves. We weren’t looking for or listening to our own employees’ concerns or wishes.”

Where the problem lies

Was James the problem or was it something bigger? Dr. Edward Deming (1900–93), renowned statistician, engineer, author and management consultant argued that 94 percent of problems are caused by the system, not the individual.(1)

James’ individual actions had not come out of a void, there is also a systemic problem. Sixty-six percent of people who take the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI)-worldwide are right in the middle of the five stages of Cultural Intelligence, the stage called “Minimization.”(2) If you think about it, that means two-thirds of people worldwide do not think about other people’s different-ness. That means, sometimes inadvertently and sometimes intentionally, they minimize it, which makes people around them feel like they are unimportant and invisible. That’s what happened in James’ workplace.

What he also didn’t know

When I asked him what he would do differently next time, he said he would diversify the management team. What he also did not know is that when you introduce diverse perspectives, it’s essential to help people learn how to communicate across those differences. He didn’t know that research shows, if a homogeneous organization diversifies before the employees and leaders know how to navigate cross-cultural conversations, there is often an increase in defensiveness, stereotyping and stonewalling in organizations.(3) Like the one James’ organization experienced.

When we’re unaware of the structures in play, the organization’s practices and policies default to that dominant cultural value of Minimization. Ignoring different-ness creates an environment in which people tend to focus on what everybody has in common and assume others are “like us.” This may be well-intended but the impact is a dismissiveness of peoples’ unique differences and experiences and a failure to recognize structures that leave both our colleagues and clients feeling invisible.

Amy: Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently so that people feel valued?

James: “I see that I need to encourage others as well as myself to…

  • Get comfortable not knowing, not having all the answers.
  • Be willing to learn.
  • Not be so defensive so that we can say, ‘I don’t know.’
  • Not avoid conflict but instead lean into conversations, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
  • Look inward to reflect on what the organization can do better by its employees.”

What he’ll also come to see is the importance of training people to communicate across culture and communities.

Addressing the system

James is spot on to encourage and model learning and listening. That is the first step a culturally intelligent leader takes. Cultural intelligence is the ability to appreciate another’s perspective and temporarily adapt our words and actions to show genuine respect. When we adapt our words and actions to show genuine respect in our conversations, we can hear and learn how people are impacted by the systems in place.

Systems that elevate one group of people over another, as happened in James’ workplace, reinforce and perpetuate in Minimization. The people in power inadvertently, and sometimes intentionally, lack self-awareness of their structural advantages and of how they are complicit. They do not hear minorities and the anxiety they experience. However, minority people, who are very aware of the system but not typically in a position of power to point out the problem, go-along-to-get-along in order to stay employed or even survive.

After years of being belittled under the system of Minimization, people of color, women and those who are differently-abled may hesitate to speak up for fear of retaliation, social isolation or job loss even when asked by a manager to speak up.  When you are systematically silenced and side-lined, you are devalued and discouraged from collaborating, innovating and producing to your top capacity. Minimization limits individual and organizational growth.

As leaders, if we allow our organizations to default to Minimization and fail to train our employees in cross-cultural communication, then why spend the organization’s time and resources to employ them? How incalculable is the loss of contribution and productivity from an undervalued person – to both the person and the organization?

Check back next month to learn three mechanisms that encourage employee communication across cultural differences and also provide feed-back for leaders so that everyone in the organization feels valued, heard and engaged.  -Amy Narishkin, PhD ©2021

References:

  1. Deming, E. (2012) The System of Profound Knowledge. https://deming.org/demings-system-of-profound-knowledge/#:~:text=The%20System%20Of%20Profound%20Knowledge,theory%20of%20knowledge%20and%20psychology.
  2. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
  3. Distefano, J. & Maznevski, M. (Oct 2012) “Creating value with diverse teams in global management.” Organizational Dynamics 29(1):45-63: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232470404_Creating_Value_with_Diverse_Teams_in_Global_Management

Do you want to know if your organization is in Minimization? The Intercultural Development Inventory® is a 50-item online questionnaire that measures both individual and organizational stage of development and ability to navigate cross-cultural conversations. To learn your organization’s level of Cultural Intelligence contact  , Dr. Amy Narishkin, a Certified Administrator of the IDI®, who provides the results and does a Debrief, which becomes an ongoing resource to guide individual and corporate development. You can find out more at www.EmpoweringPartners.com

Talking Turkey

Talking Turkey

The phrase “talking turkey” usually refers to speaking frankly, discussing hard facts, or getting down to business. “Turkey” by itself has a number of meanings. Of course, it’s known primarily as the big-feathered awkward bird almost 90% of Americans enjoy during their Thanksgiving feast. While taking home a turkey is considered a brag-worthy feat, being called one is not. It’s considered an insult.

Today there’s a lot of “talking turkey,” especially in boardrooms, congressional hearings and in political debates – one more reason why, on Thanksgiving, it is nice to just sit back and eat the turkey.

This year many of us can be thankful for being alive and for the support we have found in one another. But how do you sit back, relax and enjoy talking in especially trying times like these? Our country is pretty divided but does our family dinner or Zoom call have to be?

I’m glad you asked.

One of the ways to get at the answer is to consider our surrounding culture: Is it task-based or relationship-based? In dominant American culture it is so much the former. We can get so caught up in our to-do lists, sometimes it doesn’t even occur to slow down and listen to one another. Yet, as human beings we have a deep need for human connection. When we don’t take the time to connect with ourselves and one another, we can feel isolated and alone, even in a crowded room.

How to connect

To connect with another, people need to “see” the other by accepting their feelings and experience as legitimate, even if that experience is different from their own.

If family or friends bring up a topic that feels hurtful to you, you can slow down, notice your feelings and name them to yourself. Even if they get your ire up, notice how they’ve struck a chord, acknowledge your internal reaction and temporarily hold off from expressing it out loud. Let them finish talking. How you feel is information. So is what they’re saying. While they’re talking, imagine how they feel. When they’re finished, you can name that emotion you sense they feel. You don’t have to agree with their opinion or even completely understand, but you can affirm their feelings about their experience. You could say:

  • “It sounds like you’re mad.”
  • “That must have been tough.”
  • “It’s disappointing when someone doesn’t get it.”

It can also help to learn more about where they are coming from. Many times we do not feel compassion for another person until they have told us more about their experience. With a posture of curiosity, we can gently request more information. We can ask:

  1. “Could you tell me what happened?”
  2. “Would you mind telling me your story?”
  3. “I would like to hear more about your experience if you’re willing to share.”

What I learned

Here is what I recently learned from a client’s employee. I was doing an IDI®* Debrief with a young military veteran who recently retired after completing two tours of duty in Afghanistan. When I heard his background, I thanked him for his service. He didn’t respond; we moved to another topic. Later on in the conversation, I asked if he’d mind telling me more about his experience in the military. As I listened, I could not imagine what it was like to be so far from home, in such a vastly different place, fighting for your life day in and day out for almost a year. The experience had not left him in a good place. After he related his story, he told me he had not spoken much about it until this point. He said he was feeling relieved and thanked me for the work I was doing.

He went on to explain that it hurts when people thank him for his service because he struggles with the fact that there are people in the military whose lives are not compromised (like the cook back at camp who makes lousy scrambled eggs) but people thank them using the exact same words.

I said, “It must be tough; it must feel like your experience is being dismissed.” He nodded.

I told him I was sorry I’d used words that felt dismissive. He said it was ok, but I knew I could do better. I thanked him for teaching me and said, “It sounds like, if I thank someone for their military service, I have an opportunity to learn how those words impact the person. I’ll be able to say, ‘I want to thank you for your service to our country’ while also asking, ‘How do my words impact you?’ Then maybe they’ll feel safe to tell me more about their experience.” He said that would be good.

At our family or work gatherings, we can “talk turkey,” or speak plainly, with one another. We just need to do it in a way that honors the other person’s experience and as well as our own. No one’s experience should be diminished, no one needs to feel invisible. We need to acknowledge this for ourselves, too.

To be heard though, I’ve discovered that I have to be willing to hear the other person out first. When I learn their story and hear about their experience, though I may not agree with their politics or be able to relate to their experience, I can affirm their feelings as legitimate. It may take a few minutes or 15 minutes, but after I hear a person out, they often want to then hear my story. Together, we can then develop a shared understanding, both differentiating and integrating our ideas.

Working together to develop a shared understanding is cultural intelligence in action. Cultural intelligence (CI) is the ability to adjust your behavior to show genuine respect for another within their context. Whether or not you agree or can even imagine what they have gone through, you can affirm their feelings about their experience. CI allows us to stand in solidarity with another, communicating you are not alone. Listening and affirming another’s experience is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other, not just during the holiday season but throughout the year.

So if you find yourself needing to talk turkey at work to boost morale and productivity or at home to resolve a conflict before it ever gets started, follow the recipe above and send me an email on the results. -Amy Narishkin, PhD

Who do you know in your network that would like to learn more about how to be a compassionate leader at home or work? Please share the link with them.