Consider this pattern in your personal and professional world, you are having a conversation and you start to say “something” and you stop. Something inside you hears, knows, has heard, or believes that you may be saying something that is incorrect, insensitive, or “wrong”. And you stop speaking.
Where does the question go?
It gets hidden. When you add up all the hidden conversations we are not having out of fear or shame, lack of knowledge or understanding you will know why many diversity and inclusion initiatives are failing. People STOP speaking instead of learning to communicate, be curious, ask, say it wrong, fall down and get back up.
People tell me it feels like people are waiting for them to fail so that they can correct and criticize, when what they want to do is practice, learn, and listen.
If people feel shame or fear and hesitate before they step into a new conversation or topic, then learning is shut down.
If our goal IS learning, knowledge, and understanding then we need to build bridges, not barricades to conversations that create real change.
We are all practicing – it is how we learn to do anything, here are some tips for practice:
- Notice – when you have that feeling or you decide not to say anything – ask yourself what is making me hesitate?
- Curiosity instead of shame: how can I have my thought or question with curious kindness, not apology and shame, lead with “I’m still learning…” vs “I’m so sorry I don’t know…” the brain actually tells our bodies it’s safe to proceed. THIS is where learning happens.
- Open the space – if someone is struggling, using language, tone, or knowledge that you do not find acceptable, open a discussion not a demolition.
I am not writing this from an ivory tower or textbook, I’m writing from experience on both sides. In the world of diversity and inclusion, people often assume I have all the “right words” and all the knowledge, knowing that I don’t makes me human and kind.
I have been called out, shouted at, humiliated, and shamed for not using the “right” words, and every time it made me think – I am not a good person, and that is not the truth…like everyone, I am learning. I am grateful to those who continue to build bridges for my learning, there is NO finish line on inclusion.
Walking with curious kindness.