Confession: I’m Too Polite

To change our unconscious biases we not only need to change our thought patterns, but we need to change our actions and reactions.  These are the interactions we have been practicing our whole lives, and at least for me, are deeply ingrained in how I interact at work and in society.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a 15 minute talk at our company meeting on gender diversity.  After the talk two women came up to me to thank me for giving the talk and share some thoughts.  As we were talking, a more senior man in the company asked me if I had heard of a women’s organization in our larger corporation.  I turned to face him to say thanks for letting me know because I hadn’t heard of it.  As I turned back, I saw that the two other women had already left the conference room.  Not feeling right, I messaged them when I got back to my desk to thank them for coming and for their support.

The polite girl inside of me listens when spoken to, especially if coming from a loud and authoritative voice. 

Can you see the problem with my pattern of behavior?  I didn’t until I was speaking with one of the women weeks later.  I had just given a talk on unconscious bias and all four of us in that situation fell right back into our expected roles and behaviors.

This was weeks ago now, so a little late to talk with the man who interrupted us.  However, if I realized it sooner (a day or two) I would have loved to bring it up to him to help him recognize his behavior.  Nothing is going to change until we help each other recognize these patterns.  

I wish I could go back, but we can only move forward. I handle very similar situations with my kids each day (mom, mom, mom, mom while I’m talking with someone else).  I tell them that I really want to hear what they have to say, but I have to finish this conversation first.  (That’s at least the 80% case; the other 20% is me yelling whatever child’s name I think of first plus STOP or an exasperated WHAT?!)

The woman I am could have said

“Let me finish this conversation then I’d love to hear what you have to share.”

Next time I hope to be more aware.  Continuing this conversation keeps these ingrained behaviors at the forefront of my mind.  I can hope that a little nugget from my talk might change his behavior next time, or at least leave him more open to feedback.  Even better would be if he could share what he has learned instead of sharing his knowledge, but that is a topic for another day.

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