Healing: agency, accountability and action

 

Two weeks ago I wrote about how the US election had galvanized me to think about the power of acceptance, openness and curiosity in the process of healing. This week I want to continue that discussion because I believe that this power is only available to us with three additional components: agency, accountability and action.

Acceptance is not resignation. Acceptance involves seeing reality as it is, starting where we actually are, not where we would like to be. To accept reality does not require us to assent or accede to the rightness of being in that place. In other words, acceptance requires recognizing and claiming agency. Resignation is the abdication of our agency. It looks at the world from a stance of fear and paralysis. Acceptance, on the other hand, operates from a stance of hope and creativity; it tells others that we are ready to investigate where our values can help us alter our reality for the better.

Openness is not “anything goes.” When we are open, we seek to understand what might be driving people’s behavior, rather than dismissing them out of hand as crazy, stupid or incompetent. This is not the easy stance of rubber-stamping all points of view or all types of behavior, however. Instead, openness is accompanied by accountability. We hold ourselves and others to the standard that words and actions have consequences. Nor, moreover, does being open mean we take the pressure off those acting in ways that cause pain or harm or violate the principles and ethics we believe govern a fair and just society.

Curiosity is not passive voyeurism. To be curious means to fight apathy, boredom and indifference. Curiosity is more than that the blind consumption of whatever information is offered to us. It is the active search for truth and ability to face that truth honestly. Being curious obliges us to examine our beliefs and assumptions and seek data sources with regard to their accuracy, authority, timeliness, objectivity and completeness, as opposed to whether they support our personal position or the received wisdom. Curiosity also means that when we take action based on the best available data, we reflect on the outcomes we get and adjust our actions accordingly to improve performance the next time.

Acceptance, openness and curiosity involve work. Let’s do that work together and find out where agency, accountability and action, and our diverse approaches to healing, can take us.


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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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Healing: agency, accountability and action

Getting down to the work of healing

“For those who have chosen not to support me in the past…I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.”

Donald J. Trump, 9. Nov, 2016

Back in January I began The Diversity Dividend with a piece about three qualities, openness, curiosity and appreciation, and how the cultivation of these qualities could lead to leveraging the best that is in all of us. In the job of healing our country after a divisive election, I believe that these qualities must come to the fore.

When you are open, you can make connections. When you exhibit curiosity, your connections are deepened as you move toward a better understanding of what it is to walk in this other person’s shoes. When you show appreciation, you let the other person know that they have been seen, heard and valued.

Let’s, therefore, not underestimate the possibility for positive change going forward and accept the opportunity President-Elect Trump has afforded by offering our guidance and help. As people who work to help foster diversity and inclusion:

  • We are no strangers to difficult conversations
  • We wield tools that can help to steer conflict in productive directions
  • We embrace “both/and” thinking, can sit with ambiguity and endeavor to see the glass as half full
  • We celebrate growth and seek to validate multiple routes to personal development
  • We recognize that awareness that there is a problem is a crucial first step to making progress in unraveling that problem

From where I sit, our work is now more rather than less important. Let’s demonstrate the power of openness, curiosity and appreciation and seize this moment to lay the groundwork for an abundance mentality.


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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Getting down to the work of healing

Der Pulsschlag unserer Natur

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Im Herbst fällt das Laub von den Bäumen und übersät die Gehwege. Wenn wir über das Laub spazieren gehen, bringen wir das zum Rascheln. Wenn wir dieses Rascheln gut zuhören würden, würden wir die Botschaft begreifen, dass jetzt die Zeit ist, loszulassen. Genauso wie die Bäume, müssen wir bereitstehen unsere Aussicht und Aussehen umzutauschen.

Obwohl wir oftmals verbinden Wachstum mit Entwicklung, Entwicklung hat auch eine Beziehung mit Loslassen, weil «entwickeln» etwas mit entfernen zu tun hat. Laut dwds.de hat die Vorsilbe «ent» Bedeutungen wie „rückgängig gemacht“, „weggehen“, „wegnehmen“ und „herauslagen“. Es erfordert zwar viel Mut, seelische Belastungen loszulassen, aber wenn wir nicht so viele negative Sachen tragen, haben wir die Kraft und die Energie uns zu bemühen. Dann könnten wir uns, wie die Blätter, bunt verfärben, um unsere Vielfalt besser auszudrücken. Wie Laub, haben wir immer unendliche Varianten drin, egal ob wir die erkennen, bestätigen, befreunden oder ausrufen.

Die Steigerung der Finsternis kommt noch im Herbst dazu. Aber wir müssen nicht gegen die Finsternis kämpfen, sondern begrüßen. Sie schenkt uns die Zeit, ein neues Lebensmodell herauszubringen. Absichtlich und nachdenklich bereiten wir den Weg für etwas Neues. Was uns nicht mehr passt, was uns Sorge macht, was uns nicht mehr gefällt, was uns nicht mehr guttut: Einfach loslassen. Und auch weg mit den Vorurteilen, Vermutungen und Missgunst. Aus der Asche dieses Loslassens wird einen Schimmer in der tiefsten Dunkelheit erzeugen. Es fängt mit einem kleinen Schritt an – hör zu dem Pulsschlag unserer Natur.


Inspiriert von Im Herbst – Heinrich Seidel und Herbsttag von Rainer Maria Rilke
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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Der Pulsschlag unserer Natur

Diversity work with savoir-faire

I’ve been preparing for an upcoming trip to Paris by listening to the Michel Thomas’ Speak French for Beginners course. In one of the recordings, Thomas points out that the words voir, avoir and savoir are built up by adding one new letter to the head of the word, first an “a” and then an “s.” This relationship between the French words for “to see,” “to have” and “to know” prompted these reflections on the sorts of activities needed to build up support for diversity and inclusion.

voir – to see
Diversity and inclusion starts with awareness.
The word voir reminds us that we need to see that there is an issue around being inclusive and honoring diversity. In addition, we need to see not only the diversity around us, but also the diversity within us — we are all part of an interlocking set of groups/identities and at the same time a unique culture of one.

avoir – to have
Diversity and inclusion requires resolve.
The word avoir reminds us that we need to have the courage and strength in order improve our homes, our workplaces and our play spaces. Having passion for and commitment around diversity and inclusion makes our efforts sustainable because they become something internally driven rather than externally imposed.

savoir – to know
Diversity and inclusion necessitates know-how and its practical application.
The word savoir reminds us that we need to know how to put our ideals and aspirations into action and those around us need to know that we hold ourselves accountable for the results of these efforts. For diversity and inclusion work to be effective, we need also need to know if what we are doing is working through evaluation and feedback.

Diversity and inclusion demands SAVvy – to see, to have and to know. When we work to be savvy about diversity and inclusion, we SAVe-nergy, energy that can be put toward better performance. SAVvy D&I practitioners aren’t smug, but they do remember to SAV-o(u)r their successes.


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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Diversity work with savoir-faire

Driving better decision making

Faced with difficult situations in our lives, especially those where we need to change course quickly, we can let ourselves fall into a reactive mode where we bypass the stage of trying to understand our situation and instead jump directly to action. When we rush to do something —wait, perhaps make that when we rush to do anything— rather than spending time thinking about what to do and how best to do it, we may end up solving the wrong problem, failing to anticipate the resistance we may meet or the hurdles we may face in implementation.

One concrete sort of occasion where we need to change course quickly is braking to avoid a hazard while driving. The graphic above shows the number of meters it takes for drivers to bring their vehicles to a halt at different driving speeds. What makes this graphic interesting in the context of decision making and behavior change is that it divides stopping distance into two activities: the number of meters needed to react and the number needed to brake. That is to say, coming to a stop requires a certain amount of thinking time and a certain amount of time to act upon that thinking

Drawing a parallel between the impact of speed on stopping time and the influence of an outcome’s significance on the decision making process, just as a more time is needed to stop at higher speeds, the more difficult and important a decision is, the more time we need both to get ready to decide and to put this solution into action.

But how should we use this additional thinking time? Russo and Shoemaker (with Hittleman, 2002) suggest using at least part of it to “decide how to decide.” They asked managers about how they spent their time during decision making and concluded that thinking time was not typically considered a key part of the process. However, when introduced to a model which explicitly called out framing and learning from experience — that is, thinking time before and after the stages of intelligence gathering and coming to conclusions — the participants in their study said they would alter their approach to decision making in order to allocate more thinking time.

“Expert decision-makers…know that they must devote a portion of their time to making choices about the decision process itself—choices that are likely to determine the character of the entire effort—before plunging into Stage 1. In this preliminary stage, you will need to evaluate the nature of the decision, decide what it is that you need to decide, identify which stages of the decision process will be most critical, evaluate how much time to devote to each stage, and devise a plan for managing the decision, getting help, and so on…we call this preliminary assessment the ‘metadecision.’”
p. 9, Russo and Shoemaker, with Hittleman (2002)

And yet all too often, even when we do engage in a meta-decision making, we make a crucial misjudgment by imagining that stopping requires less effort than starting. When we are talking about things that we need to stop doing, we need to recognize that this will also involve thinking time, time to plan the most effective way to wean ourselves off these unproductive habits. We will likely also benefit by examining our past efforts at behavior change to learn from what worked well and where we were less successful (see The ironic truth about shedding bad habits for one possible reason our outcomes might be counter to our intentions).

Moreover, as I discussed in Unbundling the habits hindering us, we need to make an honest appraisal of the behaviors we have defined as “bad” in order to see them in a more nuanced fashion. If we continue to behave in a particular way, it is very likely that there is more than laziness or lack of awareness maintaining this behavior. When invest thinking time to get clear about what is keeping us stuck or what value we get from our current behaviors, we will find that the “breaking/braking distance” for our ineffective habits becomes that much shorter.


Russo, J. E., Shoemaker, P. J. H., with Hittleman, M. (2002). Winning decisions: Getting it right the first time. New York: Currency/Doubleday.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

 

Driving better decision making

The ironic truth about shedding bad habits

Imagine you have just taken part in a 360º feedback process and become aware that your references to “the girls down in sales” are reducing your credibility and degrading the level of trust within your team. With this feedback in hand, your goal is to stop using sexist language; however what should you be thinking about when in order to make this change? The answer will perhaps seem obvious to those of you who use Appreciative Inquiry in your practice: don’t think about what you want to do less of, instead find what’s working well and do more of it. The late Daniel Wegner’s theory of the ironic processes of mental control is one attempt to explain why trying to stop doing something can be so difficult:

“Humans are thwarted not just by a frequent inability to think, want, or feel what they desire but by the all-too-common discovery that their efforts to control these things go beyond failure to produce effects diametrically opposed to their original intent…It is not just that we cannot sleep, for instance, or that we cannot stop thinking about food when on a diet; the problem is that the more we want to sleep or to banish food thoughts the more we fail. We stay awake worrying that we cannot sleep, and we spend all day mentally in the refrigerator when we are hoping to diet. The agony of mental control is this oppositional quality that always seems to haunt attempts to direct our minds.”
Wegner, 1994 p. 34

“When capacity is reduced for some reason (such as distraction, cognitive load, stress, time pressure, and so on), however, the intended control does not merely de- cline to some uncontrolled baseline or zero level. Rather, mental control exerted during mental load will often produce ironic effects, resulting in mental states that go beyond “no change” to become the opposite of what is desired. Desired happiness becomes sadness, desired relaxation becomes anxiety, desired interest becomes boredom, desired love becomes hate, and so on.” [italics added]
Wegner, 1994 p.35

Knowing that your word choices have offended others seems very likely to be a condition which creates stress. In addition, the workplace is liable to create significant cognitive load and involve serious time pressure and frequent distractions. This is a recipe for an ironic or counterintentional effect: you plan to avoid terms like “girls” and with all of the other mental activity you have to juggle, this plan actually increases the frequency with which you use such terms. As I alluded to above, the existence of ironic processes of mental control suggests that if you want to stop doing one thing, you need to think about what other thing(s) you do want to do, instead of thinking about the thing that you don’t want to do.

Thus, in the example above, the best approach after learning that comments like “the girls down in sales” are undermining your effectiveness is to create a positive intention detailing what you want to do. If you are trying to coach yourself to form a new speech habit, you need to imagine and rehearse using inclusive and empowering language to refer to women, rather than expending energy thinking about how to prevent yourself making the offending comment again. Indeed, doing the latter, according to the research behind Wegner’s theory, has a good chance of producing the opposite outcome to that which you had hoped to achieve. In other words, to leave the ironic to the stand-up comedians, it is almost certain to be more helpful to devise ways to create new habits instead of focusing on breaking the bad ones.


 

Wegner, D. M. (1994). Ironic processes of mental control. Psychological Review, 101(1), 34-52.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The ironic truth about shedding bad habits

Privilege is a multiplier – the halo/horn effect

It’s in the news and yet it is not new that physical characteristics such as skin color, gender, age and even height impact how people treat each other. Indeed visible diversities, including certain signals of religious identity or disability status, frequently have an influence on the way an interaction between individuals or groups unfolds. That is, certain ways of being, indexed by visual characteristics, are considered good, correct or proper. Those who fit the set of physical/visual norms that are valued in a particular culture, group or environment will find themselves privileged. Those failing to fit the norm are typically stigmatized, marginalized and subject to harms ranging from micro-aggressions to murder.

What may be less well explored in the media coverage is that privilege is typically a multiplier due to how our cognitive systems process information. My looking right has a powerful effect on assumptions about my worth in a particular social context. Based almost exclusively on a quality that does not reliably confer virtue—my physical appearance—I will be granted additional positive qualities (the halo effect) and someone lacking the desired or prototypical look will be assumed to be lacking other qualities as well (the horn effect).

There are at least two reasons that the halo/horn effect deserves deeper consideration. First, it is an example of how first impressions, based on minimal and/or superficial information, set the stage for an interaction. I look at the driver of a car I’ve stopped for a broken taillight and I see that he is black. Black skin confers the horn effect and my mind automatically begins to ascribe negative traits to him and react to his subsequent behavior with these assumptions in place. In the harsh light of the negative attributions engendered by the horn effect, were anything a bit out of the ordinary to occur, I am unlikely to be prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Second, the halo/horn effect highlights our tendency to treat new information in ways that conform to beliefs we already hold. The candidate sitting across from me in a job interview is male. Maleness activates the halo effect and he therefore has less to prove and any evidence he provides tends to be construed in line with positive expectations I already have for how effective, competent, driven, etc. male workers are (see this piece by Joan C. Williams for examples of what she calls the Prove It Again problem). As I ask my questions, rather than testing his fitness for the post I am trying to fill, I am seeking to confirm the suitability that his maleness, by virtue of the halo effect, has already cemented in my mind.

The good news is that we can mitigate the halo/horn effect if we make the effort to do so. We can’t stop at first impressions, nor focus solely on those factors that support our case. We need to check our assumptions and expectations against reality and we need to be aware that our version of reality is only our version and seek the opinions and feedback of diverse others. Finally, we can presume that others are always trying to do their best and allow this attribution of good intentions to create a halo effect of its own.


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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Privilege is a multiplier – the halo/horn effect