Schedule a Call

How to Speak up in a Productive Manner and What to Do When You Offend

Feb 03, 2023
Blackboard with the word


If you will recall last week’s DEI Minute, I shared some thoughts on personal appearance in the workplace. I said:

…Hair is another hot spot as far as appearance goes since there are many variations on what is appropriate or acceptable. Hindus, for example, believe their hair should never be cut and men often wrap their heads in a turban. Orthodox Jewish men wear dreadlocks…

Much to my surprise and delight, here is an email I received:

I always love your articles, and I hope you don’t mind if I clarify something in this one about personal appearance. Orthodox Jewish men do not wear dreadlocks. The side curls are called 'Payos.' Here is an explanation: the Jewish rule is that a man must not cut or trim his hair within a special facial region. The boundaries of this prohibited zone are on each side of the face - roughly between the middle of the ear and the eye, below a bone that runs horizontally across there. Many Orthodox Jews simply do not trim their sideburns above this line. Other Jews - primarily Hasidic ones - go further with this tradition. They do not trim or cut their hair here at all. Rather, they allow it to grow indefinitely. The result is long side curls that visibly extend downward. Dreadlocks, also known as locs or dreads, are rope-like strands of hair formed by locking or braiding hair


Speaking up in a Productive Manner

Speaking up, that is, knowing how to address someone else’s comments—be it hurtful jokes, or comments that are biased, demeaning, prejudiced, or even inaccurate, can be difficult.

And many people want to speak up but fear they will say the wrong thing or don’t know how to approach the situation.

Unfortunately, staying silent only allows these situations to continue. And failure to speak up can also take a toll on you. You will spend the day thinking I should have said…. Why didn’t I speak up?... I could have said…

The key is to show a better behavior in a manner that opens up a conversation and does not diminish the individual -- calling someone a racist, a homophobe, a sexist and an ignorant rarely works.


Here Are Some Things That Can Work

Keep in mind the difference between intent vs. impact. In other words, start with the assumption the person is a decent human being. This is exactly what my reader did and started from the premise that I did not intend to harm. She also provided non-blaming feedback. Again, the key is to give individuals a chance to think about what they said while giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Give individuals a chance to reexamine what they said by asking “non-blaming” questions. Many times, individuals are not aware that what they said is inaccurate or offensive. So, asking questions like What do you mean when you say….? It sounds like you are saying that ________________. Is that what you mean? This is an excellent strategy for you to learn the perspective of the offending party in a productive and non-confrontational way.

Always aim to create a learning opportunity. In other words, without placing blame, create an opportunity to go deeper into the conversation so you can get a better understanding of the situation. Notice that my reader provided me with a learning opportunity. She could very well have said, Why in the world would you say something like this? Notice my reader accomplished this by creating an opportunity that allowed me to learn. She described the situation and the behavior she observed and provided feedback in a respectful manner.


When You Are the Offending Party

There are many degrees of harm. Regardless, when you are the offending party, here are some things you should keep in mind.

 First, recognize what you did. Don’t explain, don’t negate, and don’t minimize it by saying “That was not my intention.” That will not change the situation, so the best course of action is to simply apologize. In my case, I am sorry for the misinformation I spread.

 Second, don’t be defensive. Instead, be grateful. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity my reader gave me to learn something new. In addition, we always have to remember that words matter and sometimes they have a different impact than it was intended.

 More importantly, take these moments as opportunities for us to grow and recognize that there is still a lot of work we need to do so we can learn about different perspectives. Remember, cultural competence is a journey and not a destination. There is always learning to be done.

 The DEI Minute is intended to be a learning space. My hope is that, in the end, we all come out on the other side a little better and a little wiser.


👉 Most organizations fail to implement successful DEI initiatives. With our unique framework, The Three C’s of DEI Effectiveness, you will finally be able to implement an effective and long-lasting DEI initiative.

👉 Click here to schedule a free consultation so we can discuss your DEI needs.


Subscribe to The DEI Minute!

Sign up to get weekly tips and strategies about diversity, equity, and inclusion to help you increase your DEI IQ. Emails are guaranteed short and to the point, hence the DEI Minute!