Friday, January 26, 2018

How to Respond to Bad Talk in a Good Way

In 2016, Agile Testing Days hosted a "Women in Agile" event which had opened my quite naive eyes. It made me realize two things: first, that the women in tech problem is not yet solved; and second, how privileged I truly am.

As shared in my post about Agile Testing Days 2017, the conference offered a “Women and Allies Evening Gathering” this time. Following up on my experiences from the previous year I was eager to attend it; and didn't regret it. I took lots of food for thought home with me.

What I really liked about the 2017 event in general was the following.
  • The event’s title did not only invite women (which often feels kind of exclusive to me), but welcomed any allies at the same time.
  • Just before the gathering, we listened to the late night keynote by Ash Coleman and Keith Klain addressing the topic that “Culture Is More Than A Mindset”. It was perfect to get attuned to talk about gender, diversity and inclusion topics.
  • A huge group of diverse people joined the event and contributed, so we could hear many perspectives.
My highlight of the evening was a very personal group discussion of our challenges with great people in a safe environment. Unfortunately we could only tackle one topic due to lack of time, but this one turned out to be invaluable for me.

When we were asked to pitch the topics we wanted to talk about in front of the whole group, I decided to take a leap and share one of my huge and very personal challenges:
"How can I grow into a person that acts when they notice a behavior that is not cool, and also has the courage to do so. I often don't have the courage right now, but I don't want to be this person anymore in the future."
Two other women wanted to discuss a very similar problem: Jose Tegelaar and Kristīne Corbus. Kristīne had proposed two topics. As she saw the bad behavior topic taking care of, she chose to host the other one; so it was up to Jose and me to facilitate the group discussion.

Well now, how to respond to bad talk in a good way? The following people joined our discussion and shared their experiences. Thank you all for a lively discussion, sound advice, great ideas, and especially for making it very safe for everyone to talk openly!
We shared personal experiences and stories of when we had recognized bad situations in the past. What we tried, what seemed to have worked and what not. Together we brainstormed potentially good ways how to respond when we overhear bad talk or identify inappropriate behavior.
  • Ask why? --> ask for responsibility
  • How to not make this passive aggressive: replace "why?" with "what?"
  • Get out of the situation and talk about it later
  • How to deal with the risk of getting negative feedback
  • Tell them your experience
  • How to walk the line in your responsibility
  • Ask: Would you like to rephrase that in a more neutral / nicer way?
  • Directly refer to common sense
  • Make a request: Please don't refer to our colleague in that way - it bothers me
  • How to take action without "hurting" the subject
  • Keep to your experience: "This bothers me…"
  • Do rude people need a rude response sometimes?
  • "We don't do that here"
  • "It was just a joke"
  • Don't laugh --> let your face speak
  • Say "That was not a good joke." (in a dry tone)
  • Recognize that different people get socialized in different ways, they are not bad people
  • Leave a path to retreat
  • If it bothers you for too long and you don't know what to do, maybe ask the "trusted person" in your company
  • Bring up the topic in another situation by stating your opinion
  • "Let us discuss our working agreement." --> with the group, i.e. during retrospective
At the end, everyone agreed that our next step has to be the following: to talk. To do something. To step up. As simple as that! Well, maybe simple but definitely not easy for everyone. However, we made it a bit easier for us as we now have lots of ideas what to try at hand. And even better: we now have a list of fellow people to exchange our experience and lessons learned with!
Speaking of our group: what do they think about this whole topic? What are their experiences and stories? I’m honored to have their voices featured on my blog in future posts; look out for them to learn more from different perspectives! This topic is not done yet.

On our way back home from Agile Testing Days, I had another conversation with Diane about this topic which made me realize a very important point. Although I often feel like a coward nowadays when it comes to difficult situations, I had been acting way more courageously about two years ago. Our conversation suddenly made me remember a repressed incident with my team back then. I had just recently joined the company but still found the courage to speak up. However, doing so was badly received by another colleague. By triggering me to question my own behavior again, I realized that after this incident, I had become way more cautious again. However, I cannot use this as an excuse not to step up anymore. I must not let myself do so.

It’s time again to speak up in case of bad talk. At least now I know that I am not alone.

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