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.

Say What?

communicationfarce

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?

maze

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.

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?