3 Phrases to Lose

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

I want to share three common phrases that most of us use casually, without suspecting that they might land very differently from the way we intended.  The aim is to become more aware of the impact that our words might have and choose them more carefully with this awareness in mind.

The starting point to this discussion is context.  Context is the first consideration we ought to have when using language.  Think about it: if you were asked to tell a joke, would it matter whether the audience is a group of 10-year-olds or a rugby team?  Of course it would.  Context matters.

Similarly, when we talk to a person who is likely to have been on the receiving end of microaggressions (e.g. a young woman, a person of colour, or anyone from an underrepresented group), we ought to hear our words from their perspective.  Consider the following 3 phrases and how they might land.

1. “Where are you (really) from?”
In the past, this question would have been a staple in my conversational toolkit, especially if I detected an indication that the other person isn’t from the place in which we are speaking.  After all, I think it’s wonderful to have been brought up elsewhere!  I have a natural curiosity for different cultural norms and customs and am keen to hear about them.  So asking someone where they’re from seemed the most innocent, well-intentioned question.

But I should have known better.  Being on the receiving end of this question, I have not always felt welcome when I was asked where my accent is from, where I’m originally from or what ethnicity am I.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how well intentioned, these words convey an acknowledgement that the person is not like us.  Whether this question is perceived positively or negatively depends on the experience of the person being asked.  If, for example, you’ve grown up in the same country as the well-intentioned, curious asker, but they assume (on the basis of appearance, for instance) that you must have originated somewhere else, this benign question can feel alienating.

“So, what can we say instead?” I often get asked?

The answer is: say nothing.  Think about it.  Do we really have to ask this question?  And if so, why?  Often, this question is asked for purely selfish reasons: to satisfy our own curiosity.  If that’s the case, would it not be better to err on the side of caution and exercise patience?  Chances are, if we’re really curious, continuing the conversation is likely to disclose more information.

I have now banished this question from my casual conversations.  I also know of a large organisation – a global financial institution – that is training its staff not to ask it.  Hopefully, we’re not the only ones.

2. “You’re so tanned!  Is this your natural skin colour?”
Some of you might cringe at this, but you will be amazed at how many people utter these words, thinking nothing of them.  And why should they?  After all, they think they’re commenting on something positive.  They’re commenting on the beautiful skin colour of someone who perhaps has had to endure lots of negative treatment because of it.

A positive comment about someone’s racial characteristic is still a racial comment.  Is it possible to imagine what it feels like to hear this from the other side?  How often do you hear people commenting on white skin?

Similarly, phrases like My gay best friend or I have lots of black friends or I love your accent betray the fact that we think of these people as different from.  In this way, these phrases border on what we call othering.

Othering is when we put people into boxes that don’t fit our own definition of societal norms: people who are not like us and, as a consequence, should not be treated like the rest of us.  Phrases that could be perceived as othering can feel alienating, even when well-intended, so we should be extra careful with them.

3. “He’s the Black Sheep of the family.”
One of the most difficult changes to make is to understand that the colour black has a negative connotation in our society.  Think of phrases like blackmail, blacklist, blackballed. From a young age, we’re brought up with imagery that tells us black is not as good as white.

This is a hard truth to swallow. Nevertheless, it appears to be the case, as this devastating experiment with children demonstrates.  So, let’s do everyone a favour and minimise the use of these phrases in our language.

Language is a minefield.  It is so easy to misstep and say something that creates a tiny rift between people.  Tiny cracks grow larger and have the potential of becoming crippling.  And that doesn’t serve anyone.  So, if we can become slightly more conscious of our words and how they might be perceived by others, we have the potential of making our interactions more positive and reap the benefits of the trust that we can create with our language well into the future.

a collection of different people in zoom call grids

Five D&I terms that every leader should know and use

By Inge Woudstra

September is the time when we pay even closer attention to Inclusion as we celebrate National Inclusion Week – this year from the 26th of September to the 2nd of October.

We heed Inclusion by improving how we behave towards each other.  This month, we focus in particular on the Use of Language, the 7th of our 8 Inclusive Behaviours(SM).

When it comes to the Use of Language for leaders, we believe that leaders who are not yet in the habit of utilising terminology that reflects Inclusion run the risk of getting stuck in the past.  To help ensure that doesn’t happen, we offer you 5 terms that should become part of your vocabulary toolkit in the workplace.

1. The Diversity Bonus

Coined by Scott E. Page in his book of the same name, Page explains that the challenges businesses are facing, and therefore the necessary solutions, are becoming ever more complex. We know that, when it comes to solving complex issues, a team beats an individual. However, a diverse team beats a non-diverse team. 1+1=3, but only if the 1 and 1 are different. That’s when your team gains its Diversity Bonus.

Many people believe that there is a trade-off between diversity and excellence. Page argues that is not the case. Diverse teams bring excellence. Diversity isn’t just about being fair and equal; it isn’t just the right thing to do; Diversity is an actual asset that gives your team a competitive edge over others.

As leaders, using the Diversity Bonus both as a team and as a way of thinking will bring Inclusion to life and make it easier to embed any existing D&I ambitions.

2. Resistant Capital
A group of diverse individuals brings excellence because each person contributes with their diverse experiences and perspective. But there’s more! Leaders from underrepresented groups don’t just bring that different perspective; they are also likely to contribute with their ‘Resistant Capital’.
Resistant Capital are skills a person develops as a result of being part of a community that actively challenges inequality and oppression. One prominent example is Greta Thunberg. Gretha grew up as a neurodiverse person and found it challenging to be understood by peers.  As a result, she has developed skills that help her deal with adverse challenges in a creative and tenacious manner; skills that others, growing up under more conventional circumstances, would not have had the need to develop.  Similarly, leaders with Resistant Capital are going to be better equipped to deal with the volatility and complexity of today’s business environment – something that every leader should bear in mind.

In fact, according to Dr Tara J. Yosso, there are 6 other forms of capital that people from underrepresented groups stand out for.   Those looking for emerging leaders amidst their teams should be adding these additional forms of capital to their list of requisite leadership skills.

3. Culture Add
Now that we know about the Diversity Bonus and Resistant Capital, we can start substituting the term ‘Culture Add’ for the term ‘Culture Fit’.  Culture Add describes the additional benefits and skills that people from underrepresented groups offer, whether they ‘fit’ with the existing culture or not.  We now know that when we look for Culture Fit, we tend to hire people similar to those already in the team.  But when we’re after Culture Add,  we start looking out for different traits, skills and talents in potential hires.
4. Psychological Safety
A diverse team is not enough to achieve excellence and reap the Diversity Bonus. To make the most of all those diverse views, people need to feel safe to express them – safe from career-limiting repercussions or views.

When people know they don’t have to fear humiliation or retribution, they are more likely to speak up even if their view might be unpopular. They are more likely to share an idea, even if it seems a bit weird or impossible, and they are more likely to do something in a different way, even if it’s not how it has always been done.

A team in which members contribute in this fashion all the time is a psychologically safe team.  Leaders need to learn what they need to do in order for team members to feel valued, respected and  psychologically safe.

5. Safe spaces
Some topics are harder to discuss than others, especially at work. Emotions and emotional experiences are topics that fit into this category. Yet it is vital to share these in a team at work, as they do influence how people feel, talk and perform.

A safe space at work is an environment that creates a feeling of freedom to openly express concerns and deep thoughts, and find a sense of acceptance and understanding.  People are in a safe space when they know that this form of self-expression and exposure will not jeopardise their respect or worth.

During the pandemic we have seen that those who were offered a safe space to share their vulnerabilities were able to build a stronger bond with their teams.

Safe spaces do not always involve the leader being there; sometimes it is necessary to involve a person from outside the team to create that safety. It’s up to leaders to ensure team members have these spaces, to allow our diverse teams to share and bond.

When we talk about the Diversity Bonus and Resistant Capital, we start conversations that show the value of diversity.  When we then talk about Culture Add, we help attract that diversity of thought.  When we then learn to create psychological safety in our teams and provide safe spaces for difficult conversations, we truly bring out the best in our people.  For this reason, leaders who are D&I-minded ought to make these terms part of their routine business vocabulary.

How Covid-19 brought an unexpected opportunity to a small business

By Nina Assam

Covid helped me to diversify professionally, in a way I never thought possible. The pandemic was a critical event that shifted the whole world. Anyone reading this will know the toll it took. That one single change has created a new path for my future and set a pace for the work we are very thankful to continue to do today. At a time of limited avenues for so many, it was time for us to kick into gear and diversify.

My story 

Originally born in vibrant Baghdad before moving to Scotland at the age of 5, my early life held much in the way of inspiration, while preparing me for the many challenges ahead. A gift of a camera from my brother at age 15 would help pave the way and build a vision, and my drive to help others built a substantial career base. Eventually I would travel and explore the world, holding several jobs in places like Dubai and America before starting my career in photography. These experiences would later translate into extensive knowledge for Soora, a corporate photography business, and then for PAPP, my Product and Packshot Photography service.

Soora has been running for well over eight years now, holding a rapport with many companies from all over England, and becoming a go-to for anyone wishing to update their professional profile photo. Although the job of taking headshots might appear straightforward, a level of social understanding and a commitment to diversity can reflect positively on those you photograph. Our favourite instance of this actually came from International Women’s Day in 2022. We’d walked into IFM, a renowned investment company usually fronted by men, and were pleasantly surprised to find we were photographing almost exclusively women, of all ages, all creeds, all abilities.

I then started PAPP because of Covid, in May 2020. I had just made the decision to move into a commercial studio after working from home for 15 years, and I signed the contract in February 2020. I finally had a larger studio space and presented a more professional front of house! However, shortly after moving in, the first lockdown happened, making it impossible to continue working face to face with people. Luckily, I had the vision to pivot and move into product photography, and establish a new offering that didn’t require the physical presence of my clients. The new business was therefore covid-compliant and has proved to be a very worthwhile undertaking.

The value of a different perspective 

With so much of the commercial photography industry being male-dominated, it’s so important to hold a space for those who are less advantaged. We often don’t think of the visual difference gender can bring to photography either. Since the details can be so easily overlooked to outsiders, shoots done by men and women might not look much different to the eye, but to the client and our subjects, it can mean the world. Fashion and design in particular need an attentive eye from a prospective buyer, and many companies would do well to look into outsourcing labour to those who would actually have an interest in the product.

Despite the success female photographers hold now, photography in the late 90’s carried a very different atmosphere to it. Burly men hauling around hefty equipment were the norm, so getting booked as a woman – let alone a woman of colour – could almost be seen as impossible unless you could fit the exact requirements of companies. Two small feminine people (my assistant and I) walking into a building, skirt pockets full of tech and carrying the heaviest equipment across central London, of course we got some curious looks.

 

Valuing diversity 

It’s refreshing to be able to tell everyone that times are indeed changing. And I still encourage this within my business, giving job opportunities to those who might otherwise be overlooked due to their identities and characteristics.

I’ve now had the absolute pleasure to have worked with and mentored three assistants. The most recent assistant I’ve taken on is Rayne Daeva, who has said,  “I’m proud to say my work with Nina has easily been the highlight of my working career so far. Not many people are willing to give accommodations to autistic non-binary workers, but with Nina there wasn’t even a question about it. With so much kindness and understanding in her approach to other people, there’s a constant communication that has nurtured my own growth more than any other workspace.

“When I first met Lauren, Nina’s previous assistant, who also falls on the neurodivergent spectrum, I was keen to know her experiences too. It’s not surprising now to recall how positively Lauren spoke of her time at Soora and PAPP, recounting all the valuable lessons she’d picked up, and even teaching me her own tricks that Nina had passed down. Alongside her incredible work ethic, Nina manages to balance family as her priority all while managing two successful businesses. Anyone would be lucky to be provided with the opportunities I’ve been given, and I sincerely hope the industry makes people like Nina shine.”

This testimonial makes me as proud as the commercial success we have achieved.

 


Nina has been working as a professional photographer for over twenty years. She has worked with large corporations such as American Express and Royal Bank of Scotland to leading brands such as Lidl and Boux Avenue. She enjoys helping people meet their marketing objectives, from large organisations to start-ups.

Contact Nina on 07905 818028. Email: nina@soora.co.uk

www.soora.co.uk  

www.productandpackshotpix.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ninaassam/

lightbulb moments

Diversity & Inclusion Lightbulb Moments

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

As we approach the height of summer, we look back over the past six months.  Voice At The Table has been busier than ever, working with many incredible people to shift the needle on diversity and inclusion in their respective companies.

Here’s a taster of the type of clients we have worked with and the kinds of things they have been focusing on:

In the video games sector, we have worked on embedding inclusive behaviours, discovering and articulating company values and helping leadership focus on the most impactful D&I initiatives for their studio.

With one of our Life Sciences clients, we worked on building momentum towards greater diversity and inclusion for the entire company as well as enabling team managers to see and address common biases in the workplace.

With another Life Sciences client, we have been working on inclusive leadership within their European leadership team, to help them get the most from the diverse experiences of their senior leaders.

One of our clients – a global members’ organisation – needed us to bring awareness and tools on how to address diversity and inclusion into each level of the organisation, starting at the very top with its leadership team, through to its staff and the wider global membership.  In this case we used many different tools, including workshops on common biases, training on inclusive behaviours, the development of an inclusive behaviours framework that shows how to live the organisation’s values, and short video modules that bring diversity and inclusion to the minds of their members everywhere.

On an extended engagement with a global energy company, we have been working closely with its senior leaders – both at its HQ and in its biggest regions – to facilitate an understanding of how they can achieve their global and local D&I targets, and how to motivate and create company-wide enthusiasm for this transformation.

In all of these engagements, we have noticed that people are generally positive about D&I.  They understand the need for being more inclusive and the benefits that diversity brings.  What stands in the way is knowing how to make it happen – and that’s where we come in.

Throughout these engagements, we observed some wonderful breakthroughs in people’s thinking and I’d like to share with you a few lightbulb moments from their journeys:

  • A senior woman: My boss told me that my next hire should be a woman. I told him that for me it’s all about the best credentials for the role. Now that I have been to your workshop I realise it’s both; a woman who has the requisite skills will also offer a more diverse approach and perspective to a mostly male team.  I see now that this is an additional skill that I hadn’t appreciated before.  So now I will be looking out for a woman to join our male-dominated team.
  • A woman of Indian background: I have now realised that in my circles, diversity is seen quite narrowly and that, in most circumstances, I was ‘it’.  I now know that diversity is much broader than an ethnic background; it’s also about gender, age, educational background and so on.  I see now that others who may not seem ‘diverse’ might very well feel they too are from an underrepresented group.  So I will now put more effort into better understanding others and being more inclusive.
  • A male board member: We had this tension about whether to have more diversity on the board, with wide ranging views of what that might look like. The conversation was about representation, as our membership is 80% male and 90% white, some of us thought we were already representative. Now we realise that, in order for us to take good decisions for all our members it’s not just about representing them proportionally but about bringing in diverse thinking, bringing in people with a range of experiences and backgrounds, not just people with finance or legal background, like all of us currently have.
  • An HR Leader: We thought our progression processes had a clear, transparent structure, but now we see that was the case at the junior levels only.  At more senior levels the process is much more discretionary. Considering the biases we human beings have – and that we have just realised we have all experienced – that means it’s not as fair and objective as it could be. We are not the meritocracy we always thought we are.  It’s no wonder our gender pay gap isn’t reducing.  We need to have a meeting to get all those actions in place!
  • A senior male manager of a mainly male engineering project team:  I like working with women and I do try to hire them into our teams, but I was convinced that our specific roles are not attractive to women.  They are demanding and require quite a sacrifice – and that’s difficult when you’re responsible for your children as a mother.  So naturally I understood that women didn’t want to apply.  But what I realised in your workshop is that my assumption about women was no longer current or true.  Lots of women and men share responsibilities for their children and lots of women do want to work on our demanding projects, with the travel requirements and longer days.  We now realise that the reason they aren’t applying is not that they don’t want to, it’s that we are not doing enough to attract them.  This has changed my view on what I need to do next.
These are but a few of the wonderful shifts that we have been privileged to observe during our work.  Our work continues to open minds, challenge assumptions and improve work culture for more people, all the while making use of the opportunities that existed in plain sight and yet were not acknowledged or seen.  This is challenging and highly rewarding work and we thank you, our clients and supporters, for going on these journeys with us.

I hope you bear in mind that, if we haven’t worked together yet, we can help your colleagues break through some of these invisible walls, too.  All you need to do is reach out and tell us what you see at work.  We will be happy to give you our thoughts on how you might be able to do address it.

For now, though, we take a little breather from our work so we can begin with refreshed vigour in September. We hope you do too.

RATIO: Challenging Perspectives

RATIO: Managing Challenged Perspectives

By Jayne Constantinis

I vividly remember the moment when the idea for RATIO struck me. It was in the middle of a conversation with a dear friend who happens to hold very different political views to me. She expressed an idea which I profoundly disagreed with. I admit I felt a surge of anger and resentment but, for some reason, on that day, instead of coming back with my (equally strongly held but opposing) opinion, to prove that she was wrong and I was right, I felt myself thinking ‘I wonder why she thinks that?’.  I wanted to understand her perspective –  the experiences, events and influences which had shaped her views.

And so I responded with ‘Why?’, and RATIO was delivered into the world.

RATIO is simply a formula to achieve the best outcome when you’re challenged by an opinion or perspective which makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s a recipe for maintaining control. A strategy for following Aristotle’s excellent observation:

“It’s the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
The starting point – the R in RATIO – is Respect, and this is a mind set shift. It involves recognising the other person’s entitlement to have a different opinion to yours. It doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with them or abandoning your position but it’s about setting a tone of curiosity rather than combat.

With that mindset, it’s natural that what follows is a genuine desire to find out what’s led them to that perspective. A is Ask. Magical things happen as we listen (proper listening, not just waiting to speak). We might hear something reasonable and logical that makes sense of their position and unlocks the conversation.

We might hear something which weakens their position, e.g. is factually incorrect and which we can call out. Or we might realise that while our hackles were busy rising, we misunderstood or misinterpreted what they said.

The of RATIO is Think – processing, analysing what we’ve heard and thereby continuing to respect the other person rather than rushing to shut them down. It’s a fundamental principle of negotiation and conflict resolution that people who feel they’ve been listened to are more willing to listen.

The of RATIO is Inform. Now it’s our turn to put our perspective forward. What’s important here is that we support it with evidence. That could be factual material, personal testimony, lived experience.

And finally, O is Offer – suggestions as to how the issue moves forward. What’s helpful here is to relax about turning their opinion round to yours (proving that you’re right and they’re wrong) but rather aiming for better mutual understanding and a broader perspective on the world than we had before. This is especially valuable since many of us, without realising it, are falling victim to the online echo chamber phenomenon where we are largely exposed to material which reinforces our existing beliefs.

You might offer to send them an interesting article; they might offer you a thought-provoking podcast or, in the case of a disagreement about the best chippie in the world, you might decide to visit each of your favourites together.

Now if that’s not worth giving RATIO a go, I don’t know what is.

 

 

inclusion - a blank face with another face on top

How Words Improve Our Understanding of Inclusion

By Inge Woudstra

Last week we talked about how words matter, and even more so for leaders . We explained that, when it comes to knowing what words to use, developing a better understanding of bias is more helpful than trying to keep up with the latest in correct terminology.

In our workshops with leaders, we often find that using certain terminology and concepts, makes our bias-related conversations more tangible. The words and concepts we share are often expressions – often new to them – that provide clarity for how words or behaviours can impact others.

As these words helps us progress our diversity and inclusion conversations, I would like to share some of them here.

Othering

Othering describes a process by which a group of people is deemed fundamentally different, usually also inferior.  It’s about creating an us and them.

As an immigrant to the UK, I have experienced othering when someone says ‘Well, you wouldn’t understand as you aren’t British’.  It instantly excludes me from the conversation and makes me feel lonely and unheard.

When we want to be inclusive it’s important to think about the words we use and try and avoid ‘us vs. them’ language.

Code switching

When faced with bias and discrimination, people may feel obligated to code-switch.  This happens when people change the way they appear, express themselves or behave in the workplace in order to connect with colleagues. Everyone does this to a certain extent, but some groups have to do it more than others. This suppression of one’s identity can come at the cost of authenticity and self-confidence, and thus, decreases a sense of belonging in a work environment.

Recently in a workshop someone gave the example of a gay colleague who, at his previous workplace, felt he had to be careful to behave like others to be accepted. At his new workplace people were encouraged to be authentic and he began to express himself more freely.  As a result, the colleague noticed how this man had become much more productive and engaged.

When we want to encourage people to be themselves at work it’s important to choose words and actions carefully. For instance using non-judgemental language.

Emotional tax

When people spend time and energy on fitting in and worry that they might otherwise not be valued, they often describe this constant additional effort as tiring.  They say that it often has an impact on their health and mental well-being and, naturally, their ability to thrive at work. This is called Emotional Tax.

An example of this is the time and effort a person has to spend trying to avoid mentioning their same sex partner out of fear of being ‘outed’.

When we mention this concept, it often helps people understand that making an effort to choose a word like ‘partner’ over ‘wife’ really can make a huge difference to someone else.

Motherhood penalty, fatherhood bonus

Research across countries finds that, broadly speaking, when a man becomes a father, this results in a wage bonus; for most women, motherhood results in a wage penalty.

Interestingly, the fatherhood “bonus” is not equal across the income distribution; in fact it is much greater for men at the top. This suggests that “Fatherhood is a valued characteristic of employers, signalling perhaps greater work commitment, stability, and deservingness.”

Many women tells us that they downplay having to leave work to pick up children or avoid photos of their children around the office, in order to avoid being seen as ‘mumsy’ and therefore less focussed or committed.

There’s a great ‘nudge’ to change the narrative around working parents by turning the fatherhood bonus into a ‘breadwinner bonus’. Labelling the person bringing in family income as a breadwinner takes away the traditional notion that it is the father who is tasked with the responsibility to earn.

There are many other words that help us understand some of our behaviours, including groupthink, halo/horn effect and more.  Unlike terms describing shifts in society – like the use of different pronouns, for instance – these terms explain some of the impact of unconscious bias.  The more familiar we become with them, the more likely are we to understand the impact of our assumptions and behaviours and, as a result, better able to choose more suitable wording.

Do get in touch if you would like help with making inclusion more tangible and turn a commitment to inclusion into action.

use of language - 2 silhouette heads surrounded by coloured question marks

The Impact of Your Use of Language

By Rina Goldbenberg Lynch

We know words matter – wherever we communicate: in meetings, at a conference, one-to-one, on our website, in a brochure, even on email.

Words can convey our hidden assumptions and inclinations towards one thing or another.  They can have the opposite effect of their intended use.  They can covertly welcome one group of people while making it clear that those who don’t belong are excluded.

As a leader, what we say is magnified 10-fold.  In the words of Simon Sinek, when we speak as a leader, a whisper becomes a shout.  What we say has a greater impact than what more junior colleagues may say.  Just think of the many times politicians, famous athletes and other role models got into hot water over the underlying meaning of their words.

Example of imprudent use of language
You may recall the ‘blunder’ that cost Bill Michael – Chairman of KPMG UK at the time – his job last year when he managed not only to offend most of his staff but also to discredit the D&I agenda by saying “There’s no such thing as unconscious bias.  I don’t buy it.

This is an extreme example of misuse of words, but it does make the point very nicely: leaders – more than others – really do need to about what they’re saying.  The impact of the words they use reverberates well beyond their reach, heavily scrutinised for hidden and stated intent.  Although what Bill Michael may actually have meant is that people need to be more conscious about their biases (as his follow-up statement “Unless you care, you actually won’t change” suggests), the words he used had the greater impact.

Where to start
Perhaps surprisingly, to be more careful about use of language, leaders should focus on their unconscious bias.  The best way to minimise high-stake missteps is not by worrying about the words one uses, but by uncovering one’s biases.  This self-awareness makes it much more likely that leaders will better understand the impact of their words and therefore be more careful about the words they choose.

Given the weight people attach to the words of leaders, we like to start our D&I work at the leadership level.  But not by telling leaders what to say and how to say it – we leave that to their in-house communications teams.  We help them understand the many common assumptions we all hold.  Once these assumptions are revealed – and often proven wrong – we begin the journey towards uncovering latent personal biases.  A better understanding of those biases ensures a more careful use of language.

Tough lesson to learn
A few weeks ago, for instance, we helped a senior leader face his own preconceived notions about what women want and don’t want when it comes to making career choices.  It wasn’t until he said out loud what he always took for granted (in this case it was  the ‘fact’ that women always want to be their children’s primary carers) that we and his colleagues were able to address the assumption and very quickly dismantle it.  (Mind you, this could have happened to anyone’s who’s assumptions have not kept up with the pace of change – so no hard feelings there!)

The beauty of this is that the assumption and the potentially alienating words were uttered in a safe environment in which tough lessons like this ought to be learned.  The workshop environment we created provided a space where leaders felt safe to practice.  This senior leader, therefore, had the benefit of dedicated thinking time on this very important topic and thus significantly reduced the chances of a potentially embarrassing outburst.  Others who might not take the time to go through a similar exercise risk their biases being exposed in a more consequential manner.

As a leader, words do matter.  We can’t even whisper without that whisper taking on meaning.  For this reason, making sure our words are informed by our deep understanding of their capability is an essential part of leadership training.

Are you sure you fully appreciate the impact of your words?

humble and vulnerable in the workplace - arrows showing your way and other ways

How To Be More Humble & Vulnerable in the Workplace

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Last week, we told you that vulnerability is good for our  mental health. Following on from this, we decided to share some tips on how to be more humble and vulnerable in the workplace.  Follow these 7 tips and you will be well on your way to creating an environment that will benefit you and your entire team.

1. Become aware of your personal strengths and weaknesses. An exercise in self-reflection will make it easier to understand what we’re good at.  More importantly, it will help us understand where we might need the help of others.  Recognising one’s own weaknesses and having the courage to admit to them allows us to surround ourselves with people who can compensate for those weaknesses, creating a team based on individual strengths.

2. Accept that some ambiguity and uncertainty is inevitable.  The more senior we become – and the more we take on responsibility for others – the more difficult it becomes to admit that we’re not always in control.  But that’s exactly what we need to do.  By openly accepting that we don’t have all the answers, we come across as confident and mature.  This also clears the stage for others and allows them to contribute.  Admitting openly that uncertainty is par for the course, we are more likely to get the most from others as they too strive to diminish the impact of our unpredictable world.  Whatever happens, the team knows that it will take everyone pulling together to solve issues, thereby strengthening team spirit and collaboration.

3. Treat everyone with respect. This goes beyond being polite and kind.  This means also acknowledging that, while people’s views might be different from our own, they do have a right to their opinion. This also means recognising that as humans we are prone to making mistakes, and accepting that people deserve our respect when they make a mistake.  When we are able to respect those who make mistakes, we increase their capacity to learn from their own mistakes and decrease the probability of more mistakes being made.

4. Keep learning.  Being humble is also about accepting that there is always more to learn.  No matter how clever, experienced or expert we become, we can always learn from others.  Showing others that we see them as an opportunity to learn something new ensures that they share more openly, thereby increasing their contribution to us and the rest of the team.

5. Be human. A big part of being openly vulnerable is about having the courage to bring our whole self to work, to admit we’re human and therefore fallible.   But being vulnerable doesn’t mean we need to wear it on our sleeve.  It doesn’t mean we should overshare.  It just means that we can have the courage to let others know what and how we’re feeling or thinking in the moment, despite any pressure to hide it.

6. Let others learn from your failures. Recognising that failures have as much (if not more) to teach us as successes, a humble and vulnerable person will let others in so they can observe when things don’t go quite as planned and absorb how we deal with that.

7. Suspend your own belief.  The most important part of being humble and vulnerable is allowing oneself to temporarily suspend our beliefs in order to learn more and to engage with another.  Being curious about another perspective is more important than holding on to our own.  We already know what our perspective is and what it is based on – there’s nothing new we can learn from that.  But if we approach a different perspective with an open and curious mind, we might very well learn something new.  That is the true beauty of diversity.

So there you have it.  You might already do some of these things, but may need to get better at some of the others.  My promise to you is that, if you do all of those things regularly, you will be well ahead of most in benefiting from your team’s diversity of thought.