Friday, March 22, 2013

Miscommunication and Perception of Prejudice

Michael Belk, a.k.a. "Ethical Behavior Boy" wrote an article about cultural diversity in the workplace. In response to his article, I wrote an article arguing that structural discrimination, the neutral policies that unintentionally harm or impede minorities, is a major barrier to diversity in the workplace. Within 24 hours of publishing it, I nuked it. Why? Because the one comment I received on the post was a personal attack, and that comment made me realize that my argument was wrong.

The Comment

The commenter mentioned an email that I had sent, citing it as a poor and offensive attempt to empathize based upon false assumptions that I had made about the person. The commenter went on to discuss the overall lack of quality in my past work, the "uninformed opinions" that I shared with others, and my overall attitude of superiority.

thumbs down, dislike
Modified from "Today is a Bad Day" by Paul Downey CC By 2.0
 I admit that I was hurt and angered by the comment. I did not realize that my past work was of poor quality, I do my best to understand different points of view, I try to be respectful of other people and their perspectives, and I am incredibly self-critical. I was angry because the commenter communicated this criticism in a public forum, rather than expressing those feelings to me in private, and attributed my attitude of "superiority" to my skin color.

Why I Was Wrong

In my nuked post about structural discrimination, I was so caught up in the reasons behind certain beliefs and assumptions that I completely overlooked the solution; communication. With this revised approach to the situation, I attempted to look at the whole situation with the commenter objectively:

I was working with an application that I was very unfamiliar with, and I focused too much on figuring out the application rather than focusing on the overall quality of the finished product.
  • The commenter did let me know that s/he was dissatisfied, but I did not understand.
I was often unsure of what I needed to do because the commenter had lots of ideas that s/he wanted me to implement. I communicated my lack of understanding and the desire to perform well to the commenter. The commenter usually responded with what I perceived as hostility.
  • The commenter did not understand what I needed, so the commenter did not provide me with the guidance I needed.
Wrong Way sign
"WRONG WAY" by David Goehring CC by 2.0
When the commenter did provide me with solutions to the problems, the solutions did not work for me. Instead of following up with the commenter to ensure that I was implementing the solutions correctly, I often looked elsewhere for a solution.
  • The commenter did not see me try the suggested solutions, and I did not provide feedback, so it may have appeared that I was not even trying the solutions that were offered to me.
Did I mention that the commenter is a member of more than one protected group under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act? This fact didn't seem relevant to me in the professional relationship. However, looking back on the situation; assuming that it didn't play a part in how the commenter perceived me was my first mistake.

    Moral of the Story

      In the email that the commenter mentioned, I made an incorrect assumption. It offended the commenter, and I have yet to really understand why the commenter was offended. Unfortunately, I may never understand why the commenter found it offensive because miscommunication created a situation in which:
      • Neither one of us feels respected by the other person
      • We both feel that the other person is exhibiting prejudicial attitudes
      • We both seem to believe that the other person does not have the aptitude to understand the other person's perspective
      statue of a child thinking; pondering, hypothesizing, positing, thinking, dreaming
      "Contemplation" by Quinn Dombrowski CC By 2.0

      Final Thoughts

      Let me first say that the above observations are still skewed. I am unable to look at the scenario objectively because I played a part in the scenario.

      What did I learn from all of this? I learned that I need to focus less on deference and more on directness in my professional communications. If I'm unsure of priorities and need some guidance, I need to ask for it. If the solutions being offered aren't working, I need to say something; even if I find alternate solutions on my own.

      I have learned that there are people out there who don't agree with my opinions, who will say that my opinions are uninformed, who will try to persuade me to second-guess myself, who won't be direct with me, and people who will make assumptions about me because of my race, gender, religion (or lack thereof), and lifestyle (unmarried, living with boyfriend).

      Above all, I learned from Larry Deane to surround myself with people who will tell me when I'm wrong, back me up when I'm right, and who inspire me to be a great person.

      Comments? Thoughts?

      Prejudice and discrimination are touchy subjects for most people. While I do welcome your thoughts and comments, you might want to check out my disclaimer before commenting to ensure that what you are sharing is in the spirit of exchanging ideas and knowledge.


      1. Charity, I am sorry you had a "hater", but I also had someone that was unhappy with the way I approved comments.

        That is the main reason I published my new comment rules.

        Charity, you will never please everyone and all people will never agree with your interpretations.

        That is the nature of blogging. I suggest you write articles you either have opinions on or ask questions of the readers when you are not sure.

        Even then there are no guarantees.

      2. Michael, I was wondering about the new comment rules when I checked out your article. To be honest, I'm not really worried about it any more; my actions and words will demonstrate my true qualities as I continue this journey.

        Thanks for your advice on how to deal with stuff like this. I'm new to blogging, so almost anything comes as a surprise to me right now. Also, thanks for not gloating about the fact that you were right and I was wrong; I really appreciate it.

      3. Someone once said, if absolutely everyone is happy with what you're writing, maybe it doesn't need said. I know you weren't intending offense where it was taken, even though I didn't see the article, but taking a step out there can be scary business. I commend you on the personal reflection and humility you chose to explore in response to that sort of interaction, that is so difficult to do when you feel slapped down and misunderstood.

        1. Amy, thank you for those words of encouragement. To be honest, it took me a few days before I could even begin reflecting on the series of misunderstandings that took place which lead up to the derogatory comment.

          What upset me wasn't the fact that the person disagreed with the article. If the person had based her/his argument on the article itself, I would not have been so shaken. The person chose to use that article's "comments" area to air grievances about her/his prior interactions with me instead of airing them in private when s/he had plenty of opportunity to do so.

          However, this whole situation has taught me how to appreciate the difference between someone disagreeing with my beliefs and opinions, and someone attacking me on a personal level. I think it's a good distinction to make early on so that future discussions about my articles will be more enjoyable.

      4. Hi Charity,
        I love your open, honest style of writing and you have great opinions - you are a great writer.

        My advice - just keep writing and expressing yourself from your own unique perspective and let it all fall where it may. Keep freethinking and it will come naturally to you how to deal with what seem like hostile comments. Sometimes they will lead to interesting discussion, sometimes not, but in most cases something is added to reflect on the subject and, maybe, life!

        Best wishes,


        1. Hello Ian,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words. I really appreciate your words of wisdom, especially since I've seen firsthand how you handle criticism. It seems like once you've written the article, it's not "yours" any more. In other words, once the article is written, it's no longer a part of you. You might clarify certain points, but you discuss the article as you would discuss any other article out there in the world.

          Does this make sense to you?

      5. One of the things I learned about blogging real quick is that 90% of the people that comment are great, friendly, helpful and supportive BUT there is always a few that love to be difficult and stir up trouble.

        As for the person you mention - I think this person has some personal issues that run far deeper than you and also sounds like a person that likes to make everything a "racial issue". Makes me feel bad for them really. Clearly something pretty traumatic has happened in their life and caused them to be this way.

        As your blog grows Charity, you'll need to develop thick skin - value the readers that support you and add value to your blog, and ignore the trolls.

        Bottom line on comment policy - It's your blog and what you do with it and the comments is completely up to you.

        Thanks for the mention too, I really appreciate that.

        1. Hi Larry... Thanks for commenting.

          Now that I've had time to gain some perspective, I see your point about the person. I don't know everything about that person, and I can't even imagine what the person has been through in order to be where the person is at now.

          You offer some really solid advice. I can't allow every "naysayer" to rattle me. If I did that, I wouldn't be in college right now, or doing as well in college as I am. I need to apply the mentality that I have about college to my blog.

          As for the comments, I now have a better understanding of the difference between a disagreement about opinions or beliefs and a personal attack. Intelligent debates are good; mudslinging is bad.

          I'm glad that I was able to link to an article on your blog. I agree with what you said in the article, and it was helpful to me in putting this whole thing into its proper perspective. So, thanks for writing it.

      6. Wow Charity, I'm sorry you had to experience that but you handled it well...much better than I would have for sure!

        1. Thanks, Jason. I'm not too sure you would feel that way if you had been living with me this past week.

          Seriously though, different people handle things differently. Your reaction, and how you might have handled it, would have been appropriate for you.

          I tend to storm around the house, beat pillows, curse at thin air, and then reflect. That reminds me... I MUST buy new pillows this weekend. :-)


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