On the importance of speaking out for DIFFERENCE

Difference in the thinking environment is about welcoming divergent thinking and diverse group identities. In Nancy Kline’s words:
  • Diversity raises the intelligence of groups, homogeneity is a form of denial (remember the component of information)
  • Diversity enhances thinking because it is true
  • When we don’t value each others identity differences we don’t value divergent thinking
I want to talk to you more about that last point. This year I have started my learning journey on being actively antiracist and inclusive. Being ignorant is not an excuse, it is a reason to keep on learning. For me it started with making sure I was following more women in my LinkedIn feed after I read a post about how few women’s voice there are.
Then I started to learn more about the fluidity of sexuality and gender through the NB: My non-binary life podcast and I added my pronouns to my email signature and am making a conscious effort not to presume someone’s gender identity until they tell me.
When the #BlackLivesMatter campaign again had to raise it voice I, with my tail between my legs realised that my LinkedIn feed was lacking voices of colour  and I was also lacking understanding of what my friends of colour go through everyday.
And I was introduced to microaggressions.
Microaggressions are those statements that at first sight seem harmless, almost a compliment, but when you look at them carefully they are an insidious way to signal someone is a deviation from the dominant group. The dominant group being the only group that is acceptable and right.
Let me demonstrate:
  • A colleague from Zimbabwe being ‘complimented’ on their good English – schools are taught in English so of course they do
  • A friend saying  your neighbour is pretty for a fat girl – assuming only thin people can be pretty
  • People who touch a pregnant woman’s belly without asking – a friend of mine use to touch their bellies back and laughed at the shocked reactions.
  • When someone asks a black person if you can touch their hair – what would you do if people asked to touch yours – it’s weird
  • When you ask a person of colour, where are you from? And when they reply London, asking No, where are you really from? – Why does it matter where they are from, are you going to treat them any differently if they are from Wellington vs Sao Paulo vs London?
  • Mixing up the names of two British comedians because all Indians look the same, isn’t that right Romesh and Nish?
  • Being stopped for a drug search because you’re a person of colour in Brixton having a bad hair day
  • Assuming that all Scots are tight with their money so holding back from getting your round in until they do
  • Not bothering to learn how to say someone’s name and asking if they have a nickname you could use instead without even trying – if you can learn to get your tongue around Tchaikovsky you can learn to say Siobhan or Kamala
  • Assuming the young woman in the room is there to take notes and not lead the meeting
I could go on and on.
All of us have been subject to some kind of microaggression at some point in our lives. I can probably count on one hand how many I’ve been subject to over the last month whereas my beautiful, intelligent and articulate friends of colour would need an excel spreadsheet to keep track and if they did that it would take up their whole lives!
When all of the components of the thinking environment come together it creates a space where people’s thinking goes to amazing places and when someone feels like they are a deviation from the norm, on the outside, a second class citizen, then their thinking suffers, and as a result the actions we take to improve our society fall short.
To paraphrase Nancy, the quality of our actions is directly related to the quality of our thinking.
So what do you do if you spot a microaggression and want to correct it?
I have no idea so it is very fortunate that my friend Dana James-Edwards does.
  1. Pay attention – open your ears and notice when microaggressions happen. Denial or ignorance makes people feel like they are going crazy and takes an emotional toll. If you’re not sure if what you heard was a microaggression then ask your friend. Yes it is going to feel awkward and uncomfortable but I bet it feels a while lot worse for your friend.
  2. Speak out -with a tone of genuine curiosity ask the person – “What did you mean by that?” if they say, ” Oh, you know…” You can say, “No i don’t I’d be interested to know what you mean by that.” Be firm, be calm and stay curious. Remember good people sometimes do bad things and that doesn’t make them bad people it makes them uninformed and if some awkwardness is going to make them more informed to do better next time then that’s ok.
As I write this it has dawned on me that I am not hearing the voices of people with disabilities. Who do you follow on LinkedIn that could give me a window into that perspective?
My thinking for this letter has been influenced by Nancy Kline’s books Time to Think and More Time to Think. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. There is no additional cost to you and I only use affiliate links of products that I use myself.
It has also been informed by Dana James-Edwards, follow her on Linkedin or Instagram #diversitydana and the work I do at Voice at The Table, a diversity and inclusion consultancy.
Each week I will be writing about one of the 10 components, let me know which one you want to hear about next.

The Ten Components of The Thinking Environment

Listening with palpable respect and genuine interest, and without interruption

Treating each other as thinking peers; giving equal turns and attention; keeping boundaries and agreements

Offering freedom from internal rush or urgency

Giving courage to go to the cutting edge of ideas by moving beyond internal competition

Incisive Questions™
Removing untrue assumptions that limit our ability to think for ourselves well

Allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking

Offering genuine acknowledgement of a person’s qualities; practicing a ratio of 5:1 appreciation to challenge

Supplying the facts; recognising social context; dismantling denial

Welcoming diverse group identities and diversity of thinking

Creating a physical environment that says back to people, ‘You matter’

The Ten Components of The Thinking Environment are the copyright of Nancy Kline of Time to Think
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