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Are You Kenough? I’m Striving to be.

By Women's Rights, Workplace Culture

Have you watched the movie “Barbie”?

To be honest, I felt indifferent about going to see it. However, I went because some of the people whose opinions I hold in high regard insisted that it was worthwhile – and they were absolutely right.

Having grown up during the era of Barbie, I was elated by how the movie turned the tables on many of the sexist messages and stereotypes associated with Barbie during my youth. I applaud the courage of the producers, writers, and actors who brought this movie to life. It provoked me in a positive way.

I don’t claim to have grasped all the subtle innuendos or messages conveyed in the movie. In fact, I feel like I need to watch it again to catch what I might have missed.

Nevertheless, here are a few initial takeaways that resonated with me:

Patriarchy is at play in societies worldwide, even if us men don’t readily see it. I feel defensive when someone accuses me of being part of the patriarchy. I put in conscious effort to overcome my own sense of entitlement and the privileges I enjoy in society. I like to believe that this effort exempts me from contributing to the patriarchy. However, the truth is that the system is skewed, and men, whether consciously or unconsciously, reap the benefits of this imbalance.

The role of men in our evolving society is changing, and our partnerships with women and others must evolve as well. In the movie, Ken faces an identity crisis when Barbie realizes that the real world isn’t as kind to her as the make-believe Barbie-land. In Barbie’s fantasy world, Ken derives his self-worth solely from Barbie’s attention. However, in reality, Ken needs to listen to and empathize with Barbie’s complex emotions and reactions. Barbie instructs Ken to find his own identity apart from her. As Ken witnesses Barbie confront and articulate these challenges, he responds with withdrawal and oversimplification, saying, “I just want to ride my horse.” This scene reminds me of the times I asked my female colleagues to “just tell me what to do” instead of figuring things out on my own.

Our duty as men is to confront our insecurities and consciously transcend them – to recognize that we are already sufficient just as we are. Toward the end of the movie, as Ken discovers his true identity and recognizes that he is more than merely an accessory to Barbie, we see him wearing a hoodie that reads “I am Kenough.” This signifies his growth and maturity. Fortunately, in my professional and personal life, I am encountering more men who are open to discussing their vulnerabilities and feelings of inadequacy.

Whether the lessons I gleaned from Barbie were intentional or inadvertent, I’m simply grateful for how the movie spurred me to introspect and to refine my beliefs and actions.

So, I ask you: Are you “Kenough”?

Do You Suffer from Acquired Male Answer Syndrome? I Do.

By Workplace Culture

Life (and Work) is Not a Game of Jeopardy, So Let’s Not Play It.

I bet some of you have met people like me when I am not at my best – the man who chimes-in with an answer to almost any question even though we were just having a discussion and an answer really wasn’t needed. In fact, offering an answer squashes the conversation.

Here’s an example. Some friends and I were having coffee together. We were talking about the post COVID return to work phenomenon people and organizations around the world are navigating. Instead of the usual talk about the phenomenon in academic terms, we had moved into personal sharing about how COVID had impacted our ways of working. One person shared how working from home was helping their mental health, another shared how they were struggling supervising people with different work schedules. Another shared how much her children and family had been impacted by changes in the school schedules and teacher shortages.

And then, Chris, a retired guy who I guessed was close to my age decided he would provide us with a definitive answer to this question: “will the U.S. workforce need to return to the pre-COVID office or workplace ways of working?”

The only problem was, no one had asked Chris or anyone that question.

 

Chris somehow had missed it, so he said “Well, the research on this is pretty clear. Hybrid work arrangements will become the norm but over time more and more people will be expected to return to the workplace. Within a decade we will all be back to the way it was before COVID.”

And that was that.  Chris’ declaration was like a shock – his comment pulled us away from the intimacy of self-disclosure into a debate about the research and the opinions of management gurus in the Wall Street Journal and other business publications. 

We call this sort of behavior “Acquired Male Answer Syndrome” the habit or tendency to provide a definitive answer to a question, whether it’s needed or asked, or not. I became aware of my own tendency to do it before I ever heard a name for it, and learning the name from someone else who noticed it just made it all the more real.  

My experience is that many men in our society suffer from this syndrome. It’s as if we’ve been socialized to treat conversations like we’re playing Jeopardy where the goal is to be the first one to come up with an answer. 

Maybe the syndrome comes from the meritocracy assumption many of us were subliminally raised with that leads us to believe that having the answer to a question makes us more valuable, or more knowledgeable,  or – dare I say – more worthy. 

Oh my God.  

Don’t believe me. Check it out and see if you can see or witness acquired male answer syndrome (let’s call it AMAS for short) in action. Knowing there is a name for it, see if you can recognize someone doing AMAS.  

One hint, don’t expect the person you witness doing AMAS to be aware of it, that’s not how it works.  Until someone points it out to us, we usually are unaware that we are doing it.  But knowing I have a tendency towards AMAS helps.  Though I still do it, I like to think that I now do it less.

Another hint, women can do AMAS just as well or better than men.  Of course they can, if AMAS is prevalent in their workplace, what choice do women colleagues have but to adopt the same behavior to improve their credibility or respect from unaware male colleagues?

The problem with AMAS for me is that, when I do it, I unintentionally lower people’s ability to share and talk vulnerably and openly about whatever it is that matters to them. It sucks all the openness out of the conversation.  For some, it can even feel like they are being bullied.

I sometimes wonder if my AMAS  habit makes me less trustworthy or less approachable because I’m the guy who’s always trying to answer a question that no one is actually asking.

 

I’m also aware that my tendency towards AMAS is harmful to my relationships.  When my wife shares a problem she is having with me and I respond with an AMAS sort of answer, she’ll say something like, “Jim did you hear me ask you to solve my problems for me?”  When this happens I defend myself with the oldest excuse in the world. I say “I was just trying to be helpful.” In our zeal to be helpful, we think we need to answer everybody’s questions for them.

By assuming everyone needs us to solve their problems, AMAS interrupts building deeper connection, or trust, or mutual respect.   Though I hate to admit it, my unconscious AMAS behavior probably reinforces the male supremacy culture I sometimes deny even exists.  

I’ll resist the urge to explain what to do to avoid AMAS, personally. I still fall into it from time to time so I’m not an authority on the subject and after all, explaining how not to do AMAS might just be a sophisticated version of AMAS itself.

Instead, share with me what you think and, hopefully, some of you will let me know I’m not crazy and that you’ve noticed acquired male answer syndrome as well.

America’s Best Business Strategy

By Business, DE&I, Diversity, Leadership, Workplace Culture

AMERICA’S  BEST BUSINESS STRATEGY: DEI

 

The Parable of RMI:

First, a little background…The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) was founded in 1982 as a 501c-3 non-profit aimed to improve America’s energy practices. 

RMI’s mission has met with great success; it operates with a surplus and has an annual budget of $120 million with over 500 employees. Their promotional information and website talks a lot about decarbonization, cutting greenhouse gasses and, most importantly, arguing the business case for why decarbonizing the planet is good for business. What’s missing from RMI’s description or website is any mention of a philosophy or approach using the word “sustainability.”

I don’t claim to understand or know why RMI doesn’t talk about sustainability, ever. But I do know this: “sustainability” is a trigger word for protectors of the status quo, be they utility operators, oil companies, chemical companies, carpet manufacturers or mega-corporations whose business models are powered by, or reliant on, fossil fuel.

I think there is something we can learn from RMI’s example in how to deal with and overcome resistance. 

What would happen if we changed the narrative about why DEI is important to focus solely on arguing and articulating its business case?

Given what we DEI (or JEDI, or DEIBA&J, or whatever) practitioners have collectively learned over the past 10+ years, it’s clear that the moral argument for DEI compels and motivates many of us, but to others it reeks of moral superiority and judgment, as if we want them to feel shamed and less-than.

I am not suggesting we scrub our language in order to collude with people’s fragility. We have all learned that words like “privilege” especially when coupled with “white” are trigger words that spark defensiveness and resistance. Many of us still use them – with caution – because we know the risk of watering down reality for learners. But it feels like we could be doing more to articulate the value of DEI as a business differentiator?

What is our ultimate objective? To reach consensus about what equity means so that everyone agrees? Or, to create equity for those who suffer the most from being treated inequitably? I understand the desire to create consensus, but it takes time. How much more trauma and discrimination should members of oppressed, under represented, or minoritized groups have to withstand until we all agree?

Let’s shift the narrative and appeal to each individual’s self-interest: DEI&B is a proven strategy to generate more profit, greater competitive advantage and more fulfilling workplaces. Who doesn’t want that?

Well, apparently Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida doesn’t, nor do any of the state legislatures who are considering  banning DEI in schools or state funded businesses. Maybe we should ask the Governor or legislators in those states to share the strategies they plan on implementing that will create as many positive outcomes as executing a DEI strategy.

The research on DEI is in, folks, and here are a few of the things it shows:

  1. DEI increases talent diversification:

    It creates an environment of inclusion and respect that opens doors for more diverse candidates to be considered in hiring and promotion decisions. Increased talent diversification has positive implications on the performance of the company. Diverse teams and organizations lead to creative problem-solving and better problem identification and prevent groupthink.

  2. DEI makes people want to stay.

    A diverse workplace is attractive to potential employees and can increase employee retention. Studies have shown that 60 percent of employees ranked DEI as a top factor when considering employers, and 57 percent of employees said they stayed with their employer because they felt the company had a strong commitment to DEI.

  3. DEI leads to better results and more profit:

    Research shows that companies with a diverse and equitable work culture, those who continually work to implement DEI initiatives, tend to outperform their counterparts in terms of financial performance. Moreover, companies with a greater number of women and members of one or more racial or ethnic minority groups in leadership roles are likely to have greater financial returns.

  4. DEI leads to greater innovation.

    It creates a safe space for employees to be creative, think outside of the box, and drive process changes, leading to increased innovation. DEI can also open up new markets for the company as embracing diversity can give the company access to new talent and perspectives, allowing for more connection to the experiences and insights of customers and the communities served by the company.

For inclusion to really take root in an organization, everyone has to identify their own self-interest in why they should support it. Let’s contain our moral outrage and not get sucked into defending ludicrous claims that “wokeness” and DEI causes banks to fail.  Instead, let’s engage in thoughtful but persuasive conversations with skeptics about how we can all live better lives, make more money, and have more surety that we are leaving our kids a planet that is in better shape than when our parents left it to us.

 

This article was produced in part by AI.

Ageism by an Ageist

By Ageism, DE&I, Diversity, Men's work, Uncategorized, Workplace Culture

“If each of us lives long enough, we will all feel at least one form of systemic disadvantage or discrimination in our lifetimes, and that’s when people regularly stereotype us as ‘old’.”

 

I’ve said that hundreds of times in workshops or keynotes with a kind of dispassion, but not anymore: I turned 65 last month. I feel self-conscious about even disclosing that, so I guess I’m feeling my outsiderness in a new way. 

I feel like the world is trying to tell me something…

 

At the market, clerks ask me if I need help carrying my groceries to the car. I tell myself “I guess all that time I spend working out and being fit doesn’t show.” But maybe they are supposed to say that to everyone and I’m just being self-conscious.

Younger people sometimes ask summarizing questions like,

“So Jim, what was X like back in YOUR time?”

 

I thought now was part of “my time”. They are probably just trying to include me.

When talking about technologies like crypto or AI, people assume I don’t know what they are talking about and offer me “catch up” definitions, as in…”Jim what Jasmine is talking about is …..”. I get their intent to be helpful, but the assumption that I am too old to “get it” when it comes to technology is, frankly, irritating. 

OK, so – reading what I just wrote – why am I ascribing everything I feel about being older to the comments of everyone else? I guess because I’m either avoiding dealing with my age or I am in some form of denial…probably both.  

My aging – and people’s reactions to how I look – has left me feeling as if I have crossed over from theory and observation to reality and experience. To be clear, from what I have seen, what I am experiencing is not even close to the frequency, severity or restriction of what women, LGBTQ+folks, men and women of color, or people with disabilities experience.

Perhaps what is similar is the impact on my sense of self as a result of how the world sees me.  I am unable to pretend my age is invisible to the world; in fact sometimes it feels as if the only thing the world sees about me is my age.

I know, some of you are saying “Welcome to the Club”. I’ll learn from it. 

 

How is getting older for you? I’m always open to pointers and new perspectives. Let me hear from you.

Settling for Hope Over Committment

By CRT, DE&I, Diversity, Education, Leadership, Workplace Culture

Is DEI Training Doing More Harm than Good?

 

This op-ed piece by Jesse Singal in The New York Times appeared today and before I had even read it, we had received five different emails, texts, or prompts, asking us what we thought about it. 

The piece posits that there is little evidence to show that diversity training – which reached its zenith in 2020 and 2021 in terms of dollars spent and employee requests for training – has any positive long-term effects. The piece also posits that some diversity initiatives worsen what Mr. Singal calls the “DEI climates“ of the organizations that sponsor them. 

Mr. Singal’s treatment of the topic and the citations he used are decidedly one-sided. In today’s “one and done” information environment it’s concerning that some may take his opinion as fact instead of as one perspective. Suffice it to say, organizations like Catalyst, COQUAL, and others conducted studies illustrating how DEI training has substantively contributed to positive gains for individuals and their organizations. 

Instead of taking issue with Mr. Singal’s assertions and claims about the effectiveness of DEI training now and then, or splitting hairs about what he means when he writes “positive long-term effects,” let’s talk about what we can learn from the piece in service of our work.

In general, I agree with one of Mr. Singal’s primary points –  if organizations want to generate ROI through a DEI&B strategy, training alone won’t work. Also, training that focuses on hearts and minds at the expense of behaviors and actions won’t change results quickly enough to make the grade in today’s impatient, profit-over-process, corporate environment. ©

Most DEI&B practitioners agree that organizations have to focus on changing processes and practices related to DEI&B in tandem with employee development and learning to achieve lasting results. But the reality is, it’s faster and strategically more practical to conduct an emotionally impactful – even transformative – learning event than it is to shift process and practice. 

The DEI managers I know report that it is easier to secure funding or support for training than for the complicated work of shifting culture. One is an event, the other is a process best measured over years or decades vs. months. Plus offering training might be rationalized as a reasonable alternative (or distraction) from the real issues. It is in scenarios like these where all too often, we diversity practitioners settle for hope instead of commitment.

But in the Spring of 2020 employees didn’t want to merely sit at their desks – alone and in their socially isolated homes – and work on changes in policies or practices. Amidst a backdrop of angst and images of worldwide civil rights protests, some wanted to talk about the years of suppressed daily lived experience of discrimination, hate, and bias at work they have been quietly living with. Hearing these stories, others wanted to better understand why they had missed seeing what their colleagues were going through. And, still others – craving the “good old days” – questioned the premise or need for the entire exercise. 

So what can we do to ensure diversity training makes a positive difference?

  1. First and foremost – and hopefully this is obvious – conduct training events in tandem with activities that implement well-thought-out changes in policy and practice. For example, pair up internal customer satisfaction initiatives with a learning experience on intercultural competency to increase listening and empathy with customers from other geographies or cultures.
  2. Hold managers accountable for applying the terms, concepts, and habits that foster inclusion. Include measuring how well they create and lead a diverse team, including their ability to attract and retain great people. 
  3. Resist the urge to prescribe processes and practices in a “top-down” way unless absolutely necessary.  Better to co-create activities and organizational practices that help everyone feel like they belong. One way to do that is to facilitate sessions where managers and specialists such as HR leads work to create the desired processes and practices, together. Research shows that managers and leaders do a better job of supporting or enforcing something they helped to create, so involve them in the creation phase. In general, train less – co-create more.
  4. To the degree that it is possible, eliminate compulsory DE&I training,  Getting people to see that which is right in front of them but might be invisible is hard enough, doing that with people who have a chip on their shoulders because they felt threatened into attending isn’t very inclusive. If you have no choice but to make DEI training compulsory make sure that whatever training you offer stays away from anything that takes a blaming or shaming tone.
  5. Ensure every training event is conducted with respect and openness. Beware of training that attempts to change people’s behaviors through guilt, embarrassment, or shame. Psychologists proved a long time ago that, over the long term,  these tactics do more harm than good.  
  6. Conversely, if someone is starting to feel or see something that has been invisible to them their entire lives, feelings of discomfort and “cognitive dissonance” may be normal. Acknowledge those feelings when they arise and offer reassurance. As someone once said, “the truth shall set you free, but first, it might make you miserable.”
  7. And, finally, if you are  of another marginalized group, be ready for dominant group members – white men and women in the US and men in general around the world – to feel a disproportionate amount of discomfort, angst, and disagreement in DEI&B learning. This isn’t intentional but it is also not unusual. Dominant group members routinely see and feel the impact of discrimination less often than their colleagues from underrepresented or marginalized colleagues. Give them time, and empathize with how hard it is to feel new emotions while they learn to empathize with what it has been like for you to carry a lifetime of harm and insult with you.

Framing issues in “more harm than good” binary terms makes for great headlines but is counter to progress. Embedding DEI in organizations is an imprecise process that ultimately and inexorably shifts organizational culture in virtuous and sometimes subtle ways. Let’s keep finding ways to make it better.

Setting My Inclusion Intentions for 2023

By Communication, DE&I, Diversity, Emotional Wellness, Leadership, Men's work, Workplace Culture No Comments

New Personal Inclusion Practices I (am determined to) Adopt

 

No More Using “Woke.” Derived from the term “awake” which is what people of color – especially black people – had to be in order to protect themselves from being attacked, murdered, or lynched, the terms “Woke” or “Wokeness” have been re-appropriated by people who use them to trivialize the actions of those who stand up for and support civil rights issues. For more on this, see my blog, “Understanding Wokeness.”

Managing My/JMC’s Use of Social Media More Responsibly. We are learning more about the algorithm every day and how it intentionally hooks us with emotional content and moral outrage, prompting us to respond with more emotion and outrage. I am guilty as charged. Of course, there are pros and cons to social media. In this country, social media platforms have served as venues for social activism (such as the Black Lives Matter movement) for many years. However, social media platforms have also united anti-vaxxers, election conspiracists, and white nationalists, helping to brew the deadly 2017 Charlottesville rally and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Until we find ways to manage social media AND preserve everyone’s 1st Amendment rights, it’s on each of us to manage the madness caused by our use of social media.

Slow Down. I can rationalize my high bias for action and off the charts “D” behaviors (if you know the DiSC profile) all day long, but the truth is, I have a terrible habit of reacting and responding and acting too quickly. Somehow I’ve fallen into the mindset that every issue is a fire and I have a bucket of water. In 99.9% of the situations where I slow down and mindfully contemplate what is happening, or just allow things to transpire a bit before I jump into the fray, slowing down has been a good decision. I’m committed to changing this mindset this year and, frankly, I’m a bit ashamed I’ve been so slow to improve on it.

Keep Bringing (and Asking for) Vulnerability. For me this means learning to name and claim my emotions and talk about them, especially when I’m afraid of being judged or misunderstood for feeling unsavory emotions that might make people think less of me. I’ve made progress on knowing how I am feeling faster, so owning my feelings when doing so is appropriate feels like a good next step.

Interrupting and intervening on men who mansplain or cut women and others off in meetings AND continuing to notice and control my own mansplaining tendencies.  I don’t want to be perceived as being the great corrector as if I am better than everyone else (I’m not) but there are a number of people in my life – men, women, and everyone in between – who still mansplain. It’s patronizing, rude, and shuts down healthy dialogue. I notice how few people actually intervene on mansplainers – they don’t want to be rude, I suppose – but I’ve decided the risk is worth the reward most of the time.

Sharing my story with others and building better partnerships.  I’m great at getting others to talk about themselves and much less good at sharing my own stories. Two-way sharing of important stories helps foster connection. Pummeling people with questions about themselves without sharing anything about myself is some sort of weird unconscious control game I have learned to play. I have lots of excuses for why I do this, but I also have lots of data that tells me reciprocity is a key element of partnership.  

Improving and addressing my unconscious bias about non-binary, gender fluid, and gender queer sexual expression. I forget to use the pronouns people ask to be called by. I sometimes forget to announce and name my pronouns when meeting people as if it should be obvious to everyone what my gender identity is. I continue to talk about men and women as if gender is either/or versus a continuum, even though I know and believe it IS a continuum. Worst of all, I minimize the impact my bias has on others, assuming they’ll not be offended when I misstep. I’ve been aware of this dynamic for well over 10 years, and dammit, it’s time to commit to changing my mindset about it.

That’s a pretty ambitious list for this old dog, but I know I can make progress on it if I set my intention to do so. 

Do you have personal practices that you’re committing to changing in 2023? Let me know what you’re working on if you can, or feel free to comment on how you made progress in some of these areas if they apply to you.  

The State of DEI: Six Questions Every Leadership Team Needs to Answer

By DE&I, Diversity, Emotional Wellness, Leadership, Workplace Culture

 

Recently, a Workday study on the state of DEI came out. In this study, they surveyed over 3000 HR and business leaders from 23 countries. Here were a few of the top line bullets the survey data revealed:

The top four key reasons that make up the business case for DE&I are:

  • Improve staff wellbeing – 41%
  • Attract and develop talent – 40%
  • Attract and recruit a diverse workforce – 38%
  • Improve employee engagement – 38%

The DEI initiatives most commonly undertaken are:

  • Positive action: to encourage diverse applicants – 36%
  • DEI training – 36%
  • Positive action: to support development and promotion – 36%

I hope that somewhere in this data one of the areas of focus is not only retaining and attracting talent in a diverse workforce, but also creating a culture of belonging and inclusion where people are treated equitably.

I hear the word “culture” referred to less today than in the past, but it’s the engine that helps to sustain positive resultseven when it comes to DEI&B. And therein lies the opportunity and the challenge. Culture sustains DEI&B and DEI&B is one of the elements that spark the development of a healthy culture. If you’re not sure what to talk about in your next leadership team meeting, try out these six questions:

  • How would you define the culture in your organization?  
  • Is it conducive to creating a sense of belonging and the kind of attentiveness that lets everyone feel seen and heard? 
  • Who’s out and who’s in, and how does that dynamic impact results?
  • What is the organization doing to have the outsiders feel valued and appreciated because they are outsiders?
  • Do the outsiders stay or leave?
  • If they stay, are they able to be themselves or did they have to shape-shift to fit in?

How are you doing in terms of creating a culture of belonging and inclusion in your workplace? Please reach out to me—I would love to hear about your challenges and successes!

Disagree with Someone at Work? Try Having a “Gap Conversation”.

By Communication, CRT, Diversity, Leadership, Workplace Culture

“Gap Conversation” (noun) Definition: A high stakes conversation where you and someone with whom you have and want to maintain a positive relationship discuss what has previously been considered an undiscussable topic (the Gap). Gap Conversations are inherently risky, but they often deepen connections and relationships when they go well.

 

Let’s say you’re having a conversation with someone you have a good work relationship with. Before you know it, the conversation has taken a turn into a subject that you suspect you and the other person disagree about, ideologically. Maybe it’s about the importance of unions, maybe it’s a disagreement about the need to have workers return to the office, or maybe it’s about the importance of DE&I.  

You have a choice: change the subject quickly or enter into a Gap Conversation, hoping that your suspected disagreement becomes an opportunity to deepen and strengthen the relationship through mutual understanding. 70% of the time, research shows we avoid the conversation, and there is good evidence that the more we avoid, the more likely we are to accidentally create a toxic work culture. 

If you are saying to yourself, “Forget it, Gap Conversations don’t work, and they are not worth the risk. Those people have their minds made up. There is no point in even trying…” 

 

I invite you to consider whose mind is made up: yours or theirs? 

 

I’ve been practicing having Gap Conversations a lot these days, and I would say my success rate is just over 50%. Given how difficult it is currently to “close the gap” with people who feel differently, I think it’s worth the effort.

Here is what I am practicing and how it’s going:  

Suspend the desire to be right

I am learning to suspend my desire to be right, especially when I feel I have a more accurate grasp of the facts and data. I get really irritated when someone cites something that they heard on a tabloid news network or read on social media, as if the data is real when it isn’t. These sorts of conversations are not about facts or data, at least not at first. In my case, I think my desire to be right is tied to some old “not good enough” wounds from being a kid with an undiagnosed learning disability in elementary school. When my “I am right” switch is on, I muck things up pretty badly, so I’m working on noticing my level of activation and not allowing it to drive what I do or say.

Restrain and redirect my moral outrage

I recently talked about moral outrage in another blog I just wrote. It is the strong emotion that we feel when we experience or see an injustice, which we then convert into a moral judgment in a nano-second. When we feel it, it’s tempting to resort to shaming or attacking the wrong-doer as if we’ve caught them in the act. For example, I remember how it felt when I first watched the infamous video of a white woman who, in 2020, falsely called 911 on a Black man who had confronted her for unleashing her dog in a leash-required part of Central Park. I’m pretty sure I posted something about it that expressed my moral outrage at the transgressorthe white woman. I wasn’t alone, and the video of the event went viral in ways that were life-changing for her. There is no doubt that her actions were dangerous and egregious and speak to the very worst in us, but when I look back on that moment, I wish I could have found something constructive to say, or to have said nothing at all. I allowed my moral outrage to mindlessly take charge as I piled on with millions of others.  

Start with listening to their story, all of it

I try to really focus on listening in every Gap Conversation. Under the surface, everyone has a unique story, and if we look at the pushback and backlash that DEI is getting right now, a LOT of it is coming from disenfranchised white people who feel that the hardships they overcame are not being considered. I’m not listening so I can agree or disagree with them. I am listening to understand and be empathetic to what created the feelings the other person is dealing with.  

Remember (and prioritize) what matters

It helps me to stay centered on my ultimate priorities, which in most cases is to be in a positive relationship with people, even if we disagree. I don’t have to sacrifice my values to get along with someone, but remembering that relationships are as important as sharing “my truth” helps me be more empathetic and accessible to others. I try to start Gap Conversations by laying out the context as we start: “My relationship with you is importantcan we talk honestly about (this topic) even if we disagree?”

Slow d o w n

My sense of urgency and drive can be helpful traits, but my bias for efficiency and speed can also be a real liability, particularly when it comes to listening and understanding the perspectives of others. I’d say I need to work on empathy, but for me, I need to work on the step before empathy which is to slow down enough to really get where people are at and understand what they’re feeling. I’m finding that I have some real stuck patterns around my urgency and turning everything into something that has to be attended to NOW. I’ve even engaged a coach to help me work on this, and I can see and feel the difference with people when they know I am present for them.

Share my own vulnerability

This is where I talk about what’s true for me, including disclosing my fears, anxieties, and concerns I have about whatever we are discussing. When I’m able to be vulnerable and to talk about my own storyeven when the story describes my own made-up interpretation of an eventthe very act of my owning my misinterpretation becomes a statement of my desire to have trust.

Redefine what “success” means

Having let go of the need to be right, we can also let go of any attachment to needing to reach an agreement. Gap Conversations are successful when each person has a better view into the way the other person views the world, and why. Even best friends may have to agree to disagree about some things. Pinpointing the specific issue can be liberating; it allows us to maintain a collegial relationship in spite of our disagreement. 

Having an effective Gap Conversation doesn’t mean that one or both parties need to agree that both sides are equally valid. They may not be. The facts underlying the ideological divide in our society on topics like who won the last presidential election, or the nature and history of racism, don’t equally support both perspectives. But just because the facts are on our side doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t listen to the perspectives of others. Beneath the data lies the real fear or mindset that can only be resolved through empathy and communication.

Business is such an important driver of commerce AND culture in our society. Even when we are at work and the issues are messy, let’s ask ourselves, “How can I engage in more Gap Conversations instead of pretending that they’ll go away on their own?”

They won’t.

For more on closing the Gap, consider picking up Jim’s book on Amazon, “Gaslights and Dog Whistles – Standing Up For Facts Over Fiction in a Fearful and Divided World