Diversity issues or employee relation issues (among people who are different) typically involve two people. The perpetrator or the initiator of the behavior is one party and the target or the receiver of the behavior is the second party. The diversity issue or incident (sometimes it is one “moment of truth”) is defined as a behavior, an action, or a series of behaviors (a pathology or trend) that one party (the target) feels or concludes based on the initiator’s behavior(s). The target may interpret the initiator’s behavior(s) as wrong, inappropriate, disrespectful, discriminatory or illegal.
First – We Don’t Know the Intentions of Others
We all mean well. I never question the intent of any person’s actions. We actually don’t know the intentions of the other person but we assume their intentions based on the behavior we see, how we react or the kind of relationship we have with the perpetrator. This is the first mistake. We should look at the behavior(s) in question and only the behavior(s). Looking just at the face value of the behavior is a good start.
I tend to focus on the actual behavior and how that behavior might affect or influence other people. In other words, I focus on the impact the said behavior(s) has on other people. The consequences of any action, how the behavior might be received or perceived or experienced, is what I tend to scrutinize.
Second – “I Didn’t Mean It”
I find too many people will get defensive when the target confronts the perpetrator about the behavior(s). The perpetrator typically responds with, “I didn’t mean it the way you took it.” Often, in my travels, people don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, this does not take the “sting” out of the behavior(s). What matters is what you said, not what you meant.
What Is Appropriate?
Don’t take it personally – apologize for your comment. Don’t try to avoid your responsibility – step up to the plate. Don’t focus on your intentions – no one knows your intentions. Try to put yourself in the target’s shoes and understand their feelings. Put your feelings aside. This is not about you – the perpetrator – this is about the target. Try to empathize with the target. Apologize and ask the target to always come and share with this person their feelings whenever they feel wronged. You want to be perceived as humble, approachable and “bigger” than any one incident. What you don’t want to do is seem defensive or stubborn. Reach out! This may be the wakeup call that you need to improve the relationship. Misunderstandings are more likely to arise among strangers or people who have strained or weak relationships.