“I’m not sure how to handle this situation,” Bianca said. Bianca is Director of Procurement in her organization. “I’m on my way out of the company; it’s not a good fit. My boss is promoting my colleague, who has been with the company for 15 years. I’ll be reporting to him.
Bianca said, “Even though I’ve stood up two projects in the last year I’ve been here, she’s has given him the credit. I’ve pointed out this pattern to her several times, but it’s not getting me anywhere. It’s creating antagonism between my boss and me.”
“In some ways, I can understand her position; she’s being loyal to a longtime employee. I just hadn’t realized until I was already a month into the job that, in this corporate culture, loyalty trumps accomplishment.
I said, “That’s heartbreaking to realize that after the fact. [Bianca nodded.] And now you know you want to find a corporate culture where management values abilities and accomplishment as much as it practices loyalty.
What’s extraordinary about Bianca is that, in acknowledging her boss’s loyalty, she was demonstrating acceptance. Acceptance, one of the five stages of cultural intelligence, is what enables a person to accept [or appreciate] others’ perspective as well as their own and adapt words and actions to show genuine respect.
The five stages or mindsets of cultural intelligence include: Denial, Polarization, Minimization, Acceptance and Adaptation. The Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI®) is an online tool that assesses an individual or group’s ability to accept and adapt while they’re talking with people who are different. Because 66.8% of the population around the world are found to be in the mindset of Minimization, Bianca is unique. She is part of the 14% of the population worldwide who have attained a mindset of Acceptance.(1)
What acceptance is and isn’t
People in the mindset of acceptance are curious about and interested in cultural differences and similarities.(1) They recognize the inherent dignity of themselves and others and are accepting of their own and others’ mistakes, imperfections, gifts and circumstances as they are. It’s not that they are any less judgmental than the rest of us, but what they do is withhold their judgment to lower their initial resistance to a person or situation just enough to stay open to what’s new or different.
Resistance is the opposite of acceptance. Resistance is a pulling away from reality based on incomplete information. When we feel resistance in our gut, our perspective narrows to binary thinking. Then we inadvertently dismiss the other person, blame them for the discomfort we’re feeling and/or lash out at them in anger.
To get beyond the resistance we feel, a culturally intelligent person knows they have an opportunity to slow down and get contemplative for a moment. In contemplation, we can take a breath and reconnect our head with our heart. With head and heart connected in a quiet moment, we can come to see or learn more of the reality of the situation or person.
While Bianca did not appreciate how she was being treated, Bianca was able to acknowledge where her boss was coming from within their company’s cultural context. As hard as it is to surrender to the circumstances and accept the reality of the situation, Bianca was doing it. She was able to stay open to learn more; that’s where her power was.
Bianca said, “I’m wondering how to handle this situation. How do I talk to my boss in the interim?”
I said, “Are you asking because it’ll take 4-5 months to find a new job at your level? [Bianca agreed.] What situation do you need to handle with her?”
“While I’m looking for my next position, how do I handle her words and actions so I don’t feel so invisible, like I don’t matter? Should I remain silent and go-along-to-get-along or call her out?”
I said, “It sounds like you’re thinking it’s an either/or – you win or she wins. Did I get that right? [Bianca nodded.] You don’t want to lose any more than you already have, and you also don’t see a need to alienate her, because she has only ever known this corporate culture in her career.
Bianca said, “That’s right.”
I said, “There’s actually a third option. You can use what’s called Non-Violent Communication (NVC). NVC is a method of communication designed to increase empathy and improve the quality of conversations and relationships. With it, you share your…
“For example, you might say something like, “When I hear you giving Mark the credit for a project I stood up, I feel invisible because I value hard work. I’d appreciate if you’d recognize my contributions. That way I’ll be even more motivated to do my best work.”
Bianca said, “Oh, I get why that works. No one can argue with your feelings and needs. That’s powerful.”
I said, “It is powerful. It’s also empowering because you’ve called out the unhelpful behavior rather than the person. They may still act defensive, but that’s on them not on you, because you haven’t personally accused her of anything. You shared your observations with a respectful tone.”
I asked, “Can I add one more point? [Bianca agreed.] When you use NVC, don’t put your expectations on her to respond in a certain way. How she responds is “between her and her God.” The point is, by using NVC, you’re not minimizing her or yourself. You’ve simply let her know your observation, feelings and need and then you made a request. The ball is in her court; you’ve said your piece. You also have not abandoned you, your values or your need to speak up. Sticking with you in the pain is the work you get to do to practice acceptance of you.
Bianca said, “I like that. That’s a great way to care for me in this interim period.”
No doubt, using non-violent communication takes time, effort and intentionality. Bianca did have to slow down and observe her reaction to what was being said and done. Then she had to think through her feelings, needs and request before she spoke again with her boss. But when you can muster the courage to step outside the binary win-lose scenario, you can discover more compassion for yourself. Seeing you, identifying your boundaries and then finding a quiet time to speak them aloud with the other person takes practice. Self-awareness and practice bring more confidence; that’s what ultimately gives you the bandwidth (and power) to care for other people around you. That’s how you create a win-win for you and everybody. -Amy S. Narishkin, PhD
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- Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
- Photo credit: Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash