A Name by Any Other Name

What’s in a name? For many, our name has heritage, cultural, identity and/or gender significance that we hold close to the heart.

When a new person joins an organization, one of the first things that typically happens is a flurry of introductions where people meet and welcome them to the group. At this point, mispronunciations or questions about potential nicknames (can we call you Jen?) are common, with clarifications going back and forth. Going forward, one reasonably expects to be addressed by their name, correctly, during interactions.

Why is it important to get names right when working with others? One of the biggest microaggressions that can take place is repeatedly mispronouncing someone’s name. The everyday or repeated slight, intentional or unintentional, can have a negative impact on the person’s sense of belonging in the organization. Calling a person by their correct name signifies a few key pieces of information:

  1. You know who I am
  2. You listen when I introduce myself to you or others
  3. You recognize me as part of the conversation, group, team, etc., and wish to communicate with me

Research by Deloitte in their 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey show that comfort, connection, and contribution are the top drivers of a sense of belonging. In other words, belonging is described as being able to bring our whole selves to work (comfort), feeling a sense of community with those whom we work (connection), and feeling recognized for what we contribute to the organization (contribution).

So, how do we foster that sense of belonging – comfort, connection, contribution – if we don’t start by saying a person’s name right? Particularly after it’s been clarified, or it’s being said correctly by others, but not said by one person?

Our name by any other name is not the same. Getting this right is one powerful way to foster a sense of belonging from the start.

Gabriella Broady

Here are a few suggestions on getting it right:

  1. Ask. If you are not sure you heard it correctly, or if you are hearing it said different ways by different people, ask the person, “Have I got your name correctly? Can you remind me how to pronounce your name again?”
  2. Avoid nicknames. Unless the person specifically brings it up, or suggests it, please do not assign a nickname to them, or say things like, “that’s too long, I am going to call you Mo” (instead of Mohammed, for example).
  3. Advocate. If you hear others saying your colleague’s name incorrectly, please advise the person on your colleague’s behalf. “Joan, just a quick head’s up that her name is pronounced ‘Comma-la’, not ‘Kah-MAH-la’,”

A name by any other name is not the same. Some critics of microaggression or diversity, inclusion, and equity topics have stated that this is a small thing, that perpetuates victimhood or fragility. It would be interesting to conduct a ‘blind social experiment’ by having 1-2 people consistently call them ‘Jake’ when their name is Jack, or ‘Alex’ when their name is Alexandra. Some have shared stories of coworkers, even bosses, mispronouncing their name, or calling them by unwanted nicknames for months or even years, despite reminders.

A name by any other name is not the same. In the words of a Janet Jackson song, “My name ain’t Baby. It’s Janet. Miss Jackson, if you please.” This small gesture of working to get a team member’s name correct can go a long way toward building respectful working relationships and enhancing sense of belonging.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

You walk into almost any organization, and what do you almost certainly see shortly after arrival? A plaque, or a rotating slide show of the company’s mission, vision, values. You lean in closer to read them while you wait for the person you’re interviewing with to pick you up from the lobby.

What is espoused and what is lived?

Reflection: Upon reading the espoused mission, vision, values, would you know that they belong to the company whose lobby in which you’re standing versus any other organization? What do the words you read reflect back to you? What would you expect to see “in action” to bring those words to life?

You meet with several people from multiple departments over the next few weeks as you go through the interview process. Each time, you hear stories & background about the people with whom you’re meeting, the company and the role as they see it. You may get a glimpse into the types of projects you’ll be working on, and opportunities and challenges of working on this team, department, organization.

Reflection: You’ve gotten a high level glimpse into the mirror; people you meet are sharing “how things work/get done” as they see them. Do these perspectives align with the words on the wall of the lobby? Have the people you’ve met “lived” the mission, vision, values with the words or actions they’ve displayed with you?

After you’ve been working at your company for several months, you’re asked to give feedback on your experience thus far, along with other employees who’ve been there less than a year. The facilitator asks you, “if you had to describe how you demonstrate our company value around ___ (pick your topic), what activities would you say are examples of this value? Are there any examples you’ve experienced where this value is not demonstrated?”

Reflection: Can you articulate what your company’s values look like, in action, before you joined or since you’ve joined? To what degree are the words on the wall aligned with the reality of your experience? How would you feel about sharing your experiences with leadership in your organization? Hold up the mirror: how do your own behaviors align to the “words on the wall?”

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, show me your Mission, Vision, and Values. Are these merely words, or reflected in the behaviors of us all?

Voice: The Gift of a Question

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Part 2 in a series on Voice. (Part 1: Voice of Accountability)

Why do people ask questions at work? Is it because they weren’t paying attention? Might they be new to a job or process? Could they be curious? Is it possible they are seeking to understand before offering an idea?

Think about the last five questions people at work have asked you:

Did it matter who was asking the question, when or how the question was asked? Did you respond differently according to the who, when, or how?

Now, think about the last five questions YOU asked others at work.

What was your reason for asking those questions? Were the responses given in a way you were expecting?

Being asked questions is a daily part of the work environment; it’s important to consider the impact of how we hear, react, and respond to questions asked of us during our busy day.

Tips for Receiving Questions at Work

  • Assume positive intent
  • Assure the questioner that it is “ok” to ask questions and that you appreciate them asking
  • Use appreciative inquiry; seek to understand the why behind the question
  • Consider the impact if the question had not been asked
  • Ask for time to consider the person’s question and get back to him/her; it’s okay not to have an answer right away

Your response to questions has the power to encourage – and discourage – others from asking questions and perhaps seeking your input in the future. Are you seeing the gift in the questions being asked of you?

Voice: Accountability Speaks

Part 1 in a series on Voice. 

Communication is loud, whether through words, actions, or silence.  After a return to the corporate world, the concept of ‘voice’ has been a consistent source of reflection; the voice that is heard and the voice that is not. Where can you use your voice? Where do you make yourself heard?

The Voice of Accountability: Owning Outcomes

At work, every one has a role to play. Part of the reason we were hired is to bring our voice as a contribution to ‘getting things done’.  There is the the voice of expertise in a skill that you bring, but just as importantly, there is the voice of accountability.  Consider a few common workplace scenarios – do any of these questions resonate for you?

Scenario 1: When you’re on a work team, and others are not doing what they said they’d do.

  • Do you ask them why?
  • Do you share the impact it is having on others’ work?
  • Do you wait for the boss to do it?
  • Does your boss do it?

Scenario 2: When you collaborate with others on a project, and credit is given to only one person.

  • Do you give credit to others who helped you?
  • What do you say if others’ take credit – or don’t acknowledge – work you have done?
  • Do you hold others’ accountable for recognizing others’ efforts?
  • Do you hold yourself accountable?

Scenario 3: When you see something broken or have an idea for improvement on a process, a team dynamic, a product.

  • Do you bring it forward to your boss or do you complain to others on your team?
  • Do you brainstorm with others on ways to fix it?
  • Do you seek a solution to the issue?
  • Do you examine the role you may play in making things better or different?

These and countless other scenarios allow your voice – or your silence – to be heard. Consider the impact your voice has on yourself, and on others in the workplace.

  • What does the voice in your head say to you if you are silent? If you are not?
  • What is the message your silence portrays to others?
  • What message is sent to a team if some are not held accountable?
  • Are you sharing the voice you want? 

The voice of accountability comes with many choices. The choice to speak, to act, to be silent, to not respond. Each of these choices contributes to your voice in the workplace.

What is your voice? 

Image credit: thingswesay.com

In or Out?

team_icon_freepub domain

Today marks three years of being “back inside.” Working as an employee inside of an organization, that is, after 7 years of being an “outside” consultant as an owner of my own learning & development firm. First, let me acknowledge that I am forever grateful for having the space & opportunity to choose – I chose to become a consultant, and I chose to return to corporate. I kept a journal for the first year of both experiences, and spent a bit of time reading through my reflections, and here is the first of several:

#1: Team is what you make it. Trust is essential. One of the downsides of being a consultant is that you may not have a team to work with on a daily basis; there is a necessary boundary between consultant & client that is different from peer work teams.

  • As a consultant, I created my own teams by prospecting for too much work and then hiring consultants to team up with me, at least for the length of the project. It was great to work together, and to blow off steam as inevitable changes to project scopes occurred.
  • As an internal employee working on a geographically dispersed team, I was reminded of the importance of role clarity in shaping (positively or negatively) team dynamics. Being the sole person with that type of job on the team…or in the organization, is a challenging space to be, I was reminded. More on that in another post.

Team is a feeling of trust, camaraderie, whether you are on the outside, or on the inside. The Center for Creative Leadership shares a model for team trust based on the Three C’s: Trust in Capability, Trust in Character, Trust in Communication (https://www.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/why-trust-is-critical-team-success-research-report.pdf).

No matter where your “team” is formed – on the inside or the outside, your sense of belonging, cultural fit, and commitment is affected by how you answer these questions about yourself and your team:

  1. Do I trust the capabilities of others on my team? My own capabilities? How can I help others grow? Can I trust them to help me grow?
  2. Do I trust the character of others on my team? How does my own character show up? Is there consistency in behavior? Do our team members honor commitments they’ve made? Do we have a shared goal – and commitment to that goal?
  3. Do I trust communication that happens on the team? Is information shared freely & proactively? Transparently? Can I admit mistakes? Can others? Do I trust the people on my team, and do I add or detract from trust in a work relationship?

One of the main reasons I rejoined the corporate world was for the sense of team – a set of shared experiences of people who work together toward a common goal. In the end, I (re) learned that team is what you make it.

Say What?

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I was born with a hearing loss. As a kid, I wore hearing aids in both ears, and as one might imagine, the teasing was merciless. I will never forget my first day of high school as a 13 year old, walking into my first period history class and Sam, a boy on whom I had a crush, saying loudly, “Hey look! It’s the deaf girl!”

Wearing hearing aids was not high on my list as a teen, and I did not wear them all through my undergraduate days, though I could have used them in those 100+ people lecture halls. The moment I realized I didn’t care anymore that I have only 60% hearing in one ear, and 68% in the other? The day I became a parent. I didn’t want to not be able to hear my son calling me, or be able to hear school performances (microphones and large echoing gymnasiums are not my friend when it comes to being able to hear). Now, I don’t care who knows: I sometimes struggle to hear.

The reality? According to the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/pages/quick.aspx ), one in eight people in the United States aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations.

That being said, in the spirit of creating increased awareness, I offer a few tips for the workplace that may help all people have better heard conversations:

1. Ups and Downs. Avoid conversations in stairwells where heels are clacking, many people are using the stairs at the same time, and you are unable to look at the person to whom you’re speaking.

2. Flush First! Please do not have work-related conversations while in the restroom. It’s uncomfortable for many reasons, poor acoustics aside.

3. Music/Other Background Noises. Conversations or presentations where people are speaking with music in the background can make it difficult to hear. Consider this when having work conversations or designing training programs or eLearning courses with music accompanying audio.

4. Whispering Woes. If you need to share some information that you don’t want everyone to hear, don’t whisper in the cubicle; find a place to have the conversation privately so that you can speak in a normal tone and volume.

5. Phone Ps & Qs. On conference calls, hold each other accountable for practicing good phone etiquette, such as: muting the phone when not speaking, saying your name before stating your comment (not all people can differentiate voices easily), and not having side conversations that mute the speaker’s voice.

6.  ABCs and 123s. A simple way to ensure people are getting the right information is to, where possible, say numbers and letters in such a way that there is no mistaking them. For example, B and P (or S and F) may sound alike via the phone or even in person, to someone with a hearing difficulty. Why not say, “B as in Boy, P as in Popsicle?” Consider numbers: Nine-five-two, fifty-six-oh-three. I have to ask, did you say “5 – 6-0-3, or 6-6-03?” When giving directions, say, “get off the elevator on floor 5” rather than “fifth” floor.

7. Check In vs. Call Out. If you are aware that a person on your team has a hearing loss, check in with him/her on occasion to see if how things are working is in a way that they can hear. It’s not necessary to single out the person in a meeting by saying, “Gabriella, can you hear?” (This happens more than one might think.)

8. Face Time. On occasion, I am asked, “Are you ok? You look mad.” I had a boss ask me this after a conference room meeting filled with many attendees, plus those on speaker phone. I was so surprised. Actually, I had been concentrating so hard to hear that apparently my brows were furrowed. I work very hard not to do this now; I am not always successful, but at least my boss understood that my face meant, “focused” and not “furious.” Have you ever learned a foreign language? Had to concentrate so hard just to understand what the speaker was saying? That is my reality, particularly in situations where acoustics are poor, or the setting is made up of many competing sounds. Which leads me to #9.

9. Be curious. You may be amazed the things you learn from someone who has a physical difficulty. For example, I often hear BETTER than others in a crowded cafeteria where I am facing the person to whom I’m listening, because I read lips. I will never forget the graduate advisor who thanked me for teaching him about what a person goes through to get accommodation when he/she can’t hear in a university setting. I never thought about it that way before, and it reinforced my resolve to never be ashamed to say, “I’m having trouble hearing you. Can we have this conversation when we get to the bottom of the stairs?”

Yes, I have a hearing loss. Yes, I am listening, and I want to hear you and be successful in my working relationships. Will you hear me?

Cracks in the Sidewalk

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When you are walking in a public place in a group, what happens when you see another group coming toward you? Do you:

  • Compress your group to walk single file so the other group can pass without shifting?
  • Keep walking 2-4 people wide so that the other group needs to walk single file?
  • Shift to the right, but keep walking 2-4 people wide, so that both groups may pass?
  • Do nothing and let the other group figure out how to make it past your group?
  • Stop in the middle of the sidewalk, oblivious of the needs of others on the sidewalk?

Some people tend to be the ones who flex to allow others to have room on the sidewalk, while others tend to be the ones who want others to have to flex around them. Other people make room for both groups to be on the sidewalk, and others do nothing to acknowledge or flex to incoming groups.

This same attitude translates into daily work life. Let’s ask the question this way: When new teams and/or individuals join your organization, or join a project team, how do you flex your behavior so that both of you know where you “fit” on the sidewalk? Do you:

  • Create space for both groups to pass with little interaction necessary?
  • Actively create space for everyone to fit, with both groups flexing to accommodate needs?
  • Wait for others to come to you, you were here first?
  • Not concern yourself; your roles are different?

Ask yourself these questions, and then ask your team. Ask those outside your team how they see interactions with your group. Are there cracks in the sidewalk? Ask yourselves, does anyone deserve more or less space on the sidewalk?

A Public Restroom: Design Matters!

Ideas come in the strangest places. A reflection on learning design comes from, of all places, the ladies restroom at the public library. How would a visit to the ladies room at the public library translate into reflections on e-learning design, you might ask?

restroom sign.png

Consider this story for a moment. I was on my way out of the library, and decided to stop at the restroom first. As I got closer, I noticed a woman in a wheelchair trying to open the door to enter the restroom. She was maneuvering herself as best as she could but then started to wheel away.

“Can I open the door for you?” I asked. After making sure she made it to the stall, I started thinking, ‘well, now how is she going to get out?’ I asked the librarian to check on her to make sure she could get back out of the bathroom when needed.

As I left the library, a few key thoughts about how this scenario relates to e-learning were running through my mind.

It’s beautiful, but does it work for everyone?

The library referred to in the story is about 2 years old, and boasts sun panels and a gorgeous contemporary design, comfortable seating, and a large selection of books. However, the restroom does not have a handicapped accessible door that the woman in the wheelchair could reach.

How are we designing our programs to reach the audiences for which they are intended?When it comes to the library, what do we want our users to be able to do? You might answer: check out books, study at the tables, bring children to story time, use the computers for free, etc.

An important design consideration in this case, is also to reflect on the fact that we want people to spend time at the library; hence, an accessible bathroom is also important.

When it comes to designing learning courses, meeting this “basic need” could be as simple as providing a glossary link, links to printable handouts, and a searchable menu, so that the learner will spend time in your course and get their needs met with tools designed for them to use on the job.

Access is everything!

do not enter sign

How might your learner’s perceptions be colored if they couldn’t access or understand how to navigate your course the first time they try it?

What do you think the woman’s perception was of the library when it was difficult to fulfill a basic need? When it comes to designing courses, we have a plethora of tools from which to choose, and many fantastic graphic and interface options.

At the same time, one of the most common laments I have heard is “we have all this great learning, but nobody knows where or how to access it?” Other examples of where beautiful design doesn’t always succeed when the rubber meets the road include:

At the same time, one of the most common laments I have heard is “we have all this great learning, but nobody knows where or how to access it?” Other examples of where beautiful design doesn’t always succeed when the rubber meets the road include:

  • English-only options for a global audience;
  • No transcript printing availability for those who have English as a Second Language, or a hearing impairment;
  • Designs that are so labor intensive that it takes 6-9 months to build them, when the information is needed NOW;
  • Not available in multiple formats, such as iPad or mobile devices

They’re in, but can they get back out?

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Upon entering a public restroom, one expects to be able to exit at some point. Sometimes you need to go back the same way you entered; in others you need to exit through a separate doorway.

At the library, the woman was not going to be able to get back out, given that there was only one way to exit – a door handle she couldn’t reach. This is not helpful design for the user!

When it comes to designing learning programs, an important consideration has to do with navigation and “do-overs.”

  • What happens when the learner tries to go back and review an earlier section in the course? Can they do so; are the screens and animations reset so they can experience the content again, if needed?
  • What happens if the learner needs to leave the course in the middle? Will it track where the learner left off, or will he or she have to start over upon returning to the course?

Certainly there are more implications for design that you may think of, given ample time. I simply suggest that design “good learning” courses, where accessibility and applicability trump beauty and flashy tricks that don’t add to meeting the learner’s needs. Let’s try not to trap our learners –in or out -with our designs and processes for accessing needed information.

Let’s try not to trap our learners –in or out-with our designs and processes for accessing needed information.

Are You the Buyer or the Seller?

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You’re both at the table. The small talk has begun. One of you is hiring for an open position, the other is seeking to find a job. If we think in terms of consumerism, which one of you is the buyer in this situation? Which the seller?

Let’s examine this from both perspectives. In today’s economy, one might say that it’s a “buyer’s market.” We’ve heard stories about there being more homes for sale than people out looking to buy, and retailers slashing prices. And in the job market, there are fewer jobs than there are people seeking those jobs. But still, at the interview table, who is the buyer, and who is the seller?

The answer? Both of you.

What are You Buying and Selling?

The Hiring Organization:

  • You are buying talent. You’ve done your homework and have prepared your job description based on desired competencies. Now you’ve got to buy the skills and characteristics needed to fill the role. You are buying execution – a person who can get the job done and help your organization meet its bottom line.
  • You are selling your entire organization. You are selling that your organization is the place to work and will be inclusive of the applicant’s values. Your offer entails a compensation/benefit package and career growth opportunities built to recruit & retain new employees.

The Job Seeker:

  • You are buying a job. You are buying a role that challenges you and provides you a salary. You are buying a “home” that you may spend more time in than the home you rent or pay a mortgage on. You are buying a boss you can relate to, a team you can work with, and an organization whose mission and values you consent to.
  • You are selling your skills and your experiences. You are selling the knowledge you’ve gained from school, work, and life. You are selling a fresh perspective and your willingness to join or lead the team to get the job done.

It’s a Buyer’s Market
You’re still at the table. You’re having the conversation, a mutual exchange of questions and answers as you discover what you each have to offer. Just remember, it’s a buyer’s market. And you’re both buyers.

You Must Be…

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is an adage many in the United States grew up hearing from parents, teachers, and other community members.

Simply put, it means that one should not assume to know something about a person, place, or thing just by appearances. As business professionals, as parents, as community members, how would you give feedback to the person making assumptions in each of the stories below?

Consider a situation involving a car accident. A young college student and her boyfriend were driving home from the beach when they were struck from behind by another vehicle while waiting at a red light. According to state law, both vehicles pulled into a nearby parking lot and waited for law enforcement to arrive.

The officer on the scene approached the young couple and the older woman. Turning to the young couple, the officer asked, “How fast were you going when you hit this lady?” The couple was forced to explain twice that they had NOT been drinking, and were, in fact, struck from behind by the other woman. The woman drove a high priced car and was dressed to attend a wedding, and the young couple were wearing bathing suits.

Assumption: Because the couple is young, drive an older car, and are in bathing suits, they must be the cause of the accident, not the well-dressed older woman in the Cadillac?

Another situation involves the real estate industry. A couple had purchased a new home, but had to wait to move in until the Parade of Homes (a home tour show that lets prospective buyers preview houses built by a variety of builders) was over, and people were done viewing their new home. Two weeks prior to moving into the home, as the couple was packing, and suddenly realized that they had no idea what window treatments in their new home would be like. They drove to their soon-to-be new home without bothering to change clothes. (They were wearing their old jeans and T-shirts.)

Upon entry to their new home, the couple greeted the realtor who was showing the home to prospective buyers. When the realtor finished speaking with another couple, she turned to the soon-to-be owners and said, “Hi there. We have great floor plans here, and we can definitely show you smaller, more affordable options to better suit your budget!” The couple took delight in letting the realtor know that indeed, they were not interested in smaller houses as they were the new owners of this particular house.

Assumption: Because of the clothes the couple was wearing, they must not be able to afford such a house?

Let’s bring assumptions to the job search. What do you say to the recruiter who, upon hearing you speak, asks, “Where are you from?” You may say, “Oh, I live in Minnesota, but I am originally from Wisconsin.” The recruiter says, “No, really? With a name like yours and a voice that sounds like yours, I figured…you must be from somewhere else.” Does the person tell the recruiter that he/she was named after a parent’s dear friend, and that the voice sounds that way due to a hearing loss, which often affects the voice?

Assumption: A person with a name that is most commonly associated with Spanish or French speaking cultures and also has a voice that doesn’t sound “midwestern”, must be “from somewhere else”?

Please send your comments and feedback regarding each of the above scenarios. What are your thoughts about how we can solicit professionals to practice the art of inquiry before assumption? How do we monitor ourselves? What do you do when you hear yourself or another thinking or saying, “You must be…” about someone else?