Many diversity campaigns took a wrong turn because they focused heavily on cultural deficits – what a particular group lacks or needs – rather than cultural strengths – the unique abilities, talents and strengths of these groups.
Instead of breaking down barriers, as we had hoped, often we ended up broadcasting subtle messages that these groups are inferior and not at all like the rest of us.
Today, a new strategy is taking root. Communities are imagining how a diverse city might function, and the role that everyone – rich and poor, black, Hispanic, Asian and white, Muslim and Christian, liberal and conservative – plays in making the economy competitive. Our ultimate diversity challenge is to figure out how to more fully develop talent in America so each person can contribute fully.
Talent that is not nurtured withers like a forgotten garden.
Over the years, loyal readers of The Cultural Coach have helped me learn how to communicate with them. They carefully considered the tone and weight of my words, my ability to reason, and my capacity to step inside of their world.
Today, I would like to share a few of the secrets to facilitating meaningful dialogs in your church, neighborhood or school. Try one of these approaches this week to see if you can open a mind or an opportunity.
Create spaces where honest dialogs can occur: Individuals are more likely to learn if the setting allows them to speak freely. Clearly define the expectations for participants. No yelling. No name-calling. No loud voices. Remove people who violate the rules because they will shut down the dialog.
Not for me, but rather for us: With apologies to President John F. Kennedy, "Ask not what others can do for your group, but rather what your group can do for others." Don't argue that "our group is disadvantaged" and in need of extra help or special treatment. Argue instead that a group has untapped potential and all of America stands to benefit when that talent is unleashed. Emphasize how the community's interests are served.
Lead learning: A teacher stands up and says: "Here's the information I decided you need to know." A co-learner stands up and says: "Let's examine our experiences to determine what we know, and what gaps we have in our diversity library." Whenever possible, represent yourself as a co-learner.
Know your cultural shades: It is OK for us to wear cultural shades as long as we are aware of them and we know how to take them off. Cultural shades are the lenses we use to view an issue or a problem. A conservative may look at school where children are failing and ask, "Where are the parents? Where are the community leaders?" (The core belief: Kids are failing because parents/community leaders are not involved.) A liberal may look at the same school and ask, "Where are the books? (The core belief: Kids are failing because resources are inequitable.) Both filters are partially right. We need people with different lenses sitting at the table.
Step outside of your comfort zone: We won't open new channels of communications if we only talk to individuals who agree with us. Actively seek out people with opposing views for they are the ones who can add new volumes to your diversity library. Sharpen your ability to listen and to explain how and why people disagree.
Manage your biases first. Before you approach others about managing their biases or prejudices, learn how to manage your own. Learners are more likely to examine their biases honestly when they observe others doing the same. Stop talking, and lead by example.