CHAPTER 3How Do We Talk about Real Differences in People and Groups That Create Conflict or Hurt Productivity—Without Stereotyping or Offending?

Have you heard someone say that, at work or in your personal life? It's a phrase that usually prefaces a criticism of some sort, but it's meant to soften the sound of the criticism. It's an effort to be honest, but not devastatingly so. It's an attempt to communicate some kind of discord, but not start an argument. It's walking on eggshells.

When it comes to working with people who are different than we are, we don't just walk on eggshells—we tiptoe on eggshells. We tiptoe around our differences and around our frustrations. We stuff our feelings down inside and try to ignore the confusion or resentment we may feel.

We don't talk about any of it—because we're afraid to. With good reason! There are a million ways that speaking up can go wrong for us:

  • We are afraid of saying something that may hurt or offend a coworker.
  • We think that if we bring up a frustration or objection with someone who is different, we might be exhibiting some unfair judgment or bias.
  • We don't want to make our coworker defensive or angry.
  • We don't want to “rock the boat”—if we object to the way someone approaches their work, we might be labeled “a troublemaker” or “the difficult one.” It seems best to just ride it out and let it go.
  • We're afraid we may be misunderstood and be accused of being insensitive, racist, sexist, homophobic, ...

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