Listening and learning, but still screwing up the response

Right in the middle of a DEI workshop — why is it so hard for us to stop centering ourselves?

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

Earlier this week, I was in a workshop on power, privilege, and prejudice. It was informative, but what I left with wasn’t in the slide deck or the presenters’ content. It was in the reactions of the participants.

The middle-aged, white male participants.

There were two men in particular that commented. They were both defensive about a personal experience that was similar to an example one of the presenters mentioned. Well, one was similar, and the other was not, but they were both awkward and inappropriate.

I’m calling this out because I know I’ve had this kind of reaction as well, but as I learn more, I realize where the impact overrides the intention.

I can see how it starts: we’re listening to someone and we try to make sense of what they’re saying by relating it to our own experience. Then it splits off — we either find something in common, or we get defensive.

That’s what happened in this workshop. One of the men thought he found something in common and gave an example of experiencing racism when he was travelling. The other seemed to take something personally, and defended the behaviour from the example, citing why things were so hard for him. One was trying to empathize, and the other needed empathy. But neither approach was appropriate here, and sucked the air right out of the Zoom.

Not long after this I was watching another webinar by Liane Davey on conflict coaching. She was talking about two things that are helpful when dealing with conflict — listening and validating. I thought this was a timely reminder of the workshop and where things went sideways. The two men were trying to listen, but they missed the opportunity to show they understood through validation.

Listening to someone is important, and she talks about the different levels we use:

Level 1 — checking the facts

Level 2 — understanding the emotions

Level 3 — uncovering values and beliefs

Sarah Albo | Your Conflict Coach

I write about dealing with conflict in our personal and professional lives.