There are a lot of cultural myths related to interactions in the workplace with regard to diversity. Throughout our time as a trainer and a consultant, we may not have heard all the myths related to culture and cultural training in the workplace but we do have an idea of which are likely the most popular. In this post, we will discuss what we believe are the 3 most popular workplace cultural myths. We will also provide information and insight to demonstrate how what you believe about workplace diversity may be false and a detriment to your company achieving its workplace goals.
Myth 1: As long as people in the workplace live by “The Golden Rule” which tells you to treat others the way you would like to be treated, we will all be okay without Diversity Training.
Reality: Many people cite “The Golden Rule” when I do trainings or consults. This saying or sentiment has been passed down through families and groups as a way to convey how important it is to be nice and kind to others. I most certainly agree! However The Golden Rule gets tricky when we assume that others perceive being nice and kind the same way you do. If you value honesty and time conservation while your co-worker values community, it may mean that you all desire something different in the workplace. While you may prefer your supervisor give you feedback quickly and directly so that you may work on your growth areas, your co-worker may prefer that the supervisor speak to her alone. This person may prefer the supervisor to acknowledge their contributions to the workplace and the group while adding that they could benefit from addressing an area of their performance that would benefit themselves and the team if they showed improvement. If your supervisor used this method with you, you may become frustrated by the amount of time being used to give feedback and confused what your teammates have to do with your performance. This is why “The Platinum Rule” states that you should treat others the way they want to be treated. Your desired way may not be your co-workers preferred way to be motivated or consulted; it’s important to consider what other people need as a true form of respecting others.
Myth 2: Every time we talk about diversity, people get upset. This shows why we should not talk about these things in the workplace.
Reality: It is a common reaction for people to get upset when speaking about matters related to mistreatment and injustice. We have learned in our society that upset feelings are unwarranted and not desirable however it’s when these feelings cannot be managed that one should be concerned. It is much better to feel sad or upset that others are mistreated than to ignore their true experience. Let’s also acknowledge that this may be the first time that some of these uncomfortable feelings are being brought to the surface for some while others contemplate this more often yet are not given the space in which to convey their experience or feelings. This leaves us with varying levels of experience related to discussing diversity; this may mean that with regards to this topic, a top administrator may have far less experience than an entry-level new employee. It’s important to allow people to have their reaction as long as they can agree to do so while respecting others around them. Creating safety words or spaces to process in an on-going manner can help to de-escalate such emotions. This is why a professional facilitator is important when discussing such topics.
Myth 3: I treat everyone with respect so this doesn’t apply to me.
Reality: Respect is a great first step but you may not be aware of what the other person considers respectful if you’ve never asked. This is more than being mannerable; it requires you to inquire about ways that person prefers to receive feedback or be acknowledged. For example, when meeting a new co-worker you extend your hand to greet them. They hesitate, saying hello yet never acknowledging your attempt at a handshake. With more time you may come to know that person is of a certain religious belief or from a native country in which people do not readily shake hands to greet or do not shake hands of people of different religions, gender, etc. Some people may force this person to shake hands just because that’s what they perceive as respectful but it’s more disrespectful to force someone to behave contrary to their personal beliefs and sacrifice their discomfort for your own needs. You can still be greeted without shaking hands. It’s best to acknowledge that shaking hands is uncomfortable or against your co-worker’s religion and their religious belief is more important than your ‘general preference’ to greet people with a handshake. Not shaking their hand is more respectful in this scenario.
You may have read one or more of the cultural myths in the workplace that sound familiar – maybe because even you have said or thought this at one time or another. It doesn’t make someone a bad person to have thee thoughts – remember they are the most popular things that we have heard – but the goal is to recognize the error or untruth in them that may be hurting relationships with colleagues or persons to whom you give a service. It’s important that you continue to challenge ideas about diversity so that you are a part of a system working towards creating a more sustainable and inclusive environment for all.