What do you do in these moments?

All of us have been in a situation in which one person in our group says something, intentionally or unintentionally, that we perceive as excluding or hurtful to another person in our group. What do you do? It’s a serious and challenging question: What do we do?!? I’ll be working with faculty at the NCWIT summit, May 20th on exactly this question.

Mary P. Rowe named these moments as "microinequities".  She described them as “the seemingly small nature mechanisms of discrimination that have significant effect by excluding the person of difference and by making that person less self-confident and less productive” (Rowe, 1990). An example scenario from a bystander training (LaRouche and Scully, 2008) involves an Hispanic employee who is assumed by a senior employee to be a waiter instead of a colleague. The authors also describe three lovely responses that re-organize the mistake into an invitation to the Hispanic colleague and that clarifies who the employee’s role in the company.

These, at best, awkward moments happen frequently as we increase the diversity of our work environments and bring together people from different racial, national and economic backgrounds. Our very different experiences and impressions of how the world works can be a strength fueling creativity, particularly when we learn to make use of diversity rather than ignore or hide it.  The improvisational principle of building with every offer, and diversity is an offer, comes into play helping to create new social scenes and interactions with other people.

The principles of improvisation include: make your partners look good, accept and build with what your partners (fellow actors, colleagues) have already done or said. By recognizing everyone in your awkward moment as part of your ensemble or team, you can focus on making your team look good.  In these moments, "good" is a step towards inclusion of all of your team members. What can you add that will make you all look good?

The answer isn’t known ahead of time. It takes your willingness to listen, to be attentive to the moment and take the risk of speaking in the interest of your group. When you work to build with what everyone has given, you have a better shot at creating a new situation together. Is it risky? Yes. You can't know ahead of time what will happen. But because we don’t know, doesn’t mean it will have a bad end. The practice of improvisation is learning to support the group in a way that the diverse contributions build a new story that can only be created by the members in that group at that moment. A new story that hasn’t been told before.  

As in all improvscience sessions, participants will create the scene, create the experience and discover new ways of looking at and responding to their situations. What’s exciting in these workshops for me is helping people create new and powerful ways of answering, “What do you do?

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