Ever tried so hard to get it right and just failed miserably? Welcome to being human.
There’s been a lot of conversation around Australia Day and naturally the topic of racism has cropped up in some of my interactions, prompting me to share an incident of my own ineptitude some years back.
It was in my early days of training and I was contracted to the Australian Institute of Management. I love training. The opportunity to engage, to nurture, to learn together and the closeness the cone of silence brings to three shared days.
It was stimulating and rewarding work. In my previous business, we got little feedback, so I especially loved hearing good feedback (who doesn’t?) both for my ego and to know that the workshops I was facilitating were actually useful.
So I’m cruising along in my idealistic Mango Machine loving life. Imagine my horror when I got a phone call from the feedback team, to report that someone had accused me of being racist.
An Indian man in the class had felt I had singled him out because of his heritage. I remembered him well. He was quietly spoken and had indirect eye contact. Not unusual for someone from that culture. Introversion is respected as being quietly in control, unlike in western cultures like Australia where he who roars loudest gets heard. Listening quietly to a teacher is considered respectful, rather than interjecting.
Not only have I studied different cultures a little as part of my own training, I grew up with an Indian mother and all her friends. Thinking I was all over this culture piece, I had tried to draw him out and include him by often asking his opinion or giving him a key role in an activity.
Let’s enter his mind for a moment. Perhaps I was a brash, loud female with direct eye contact (rude), a bossy manner and telling jokes I thought hilarious that he may not have understood. His English was good: but perhaps not his first language.
He felt the opposite of what I had intended. I wanted to include: he felt singled out and excluded for being different. Because in his mind that was the only obvious answer: he was the only brown skinned male in the group, and I had deliberately drawn unwanted attention to him.
I was mortified. I called him but he didn’t answer and no surprise as he wouldn’t have wanted direct confrontation. I emailed him to apologise for any misunderstanding but got no response and I realise as I recount this I still wish I could talk to him to clear up the misunderstanding.
What could I have done better?
A more experienced trainer would have asked him questions within a small breakout group where it’s more comfortable for a more introverted person
to interact, not in front of the whole class. A more experienced trainer may have had a quiet word during a break.
And who knows? Perhaps my manner, my tone, something in my words did indicate racism. If it was, it was certainly unconscious.
As long as we are human there will be moments of misunderstanding, of mortification and of hurt. Most of it will be unintentional as we crash around relationships old and new. What we can do, however, is maintain that great trait of openness, to other’s thoughts, ideas, values and backgrounds. By demanding questions of ourselves and setting aside our egos, we give ourselves a chance. Respect. Connect. Thrive.
Find out your preference for Apple, Mango, Lime or Banana, do the short Fruit Quiz.
In February, a light will be shone upon our personal relationships in Lynne’s new book, Pick Me! Loving and Living with People You Just Don’t Get. Through a series of hilarious, and relatable relationship stories constructed from real life scenarios, Lynne Schinella will share why and how we are different, the impact this has on our personal relationships and how to navigate the frustrating but delightful mess that is living with someone we just don’t get.
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