experiment, leadership, tips

Instead of calling someone out, try this.

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I belong to a group that meets monthly to find ways to tackle personal and systemic racism. As part of this work, members share their own beliefs and experiences related to race. There’s a tendency to tiptoe in this space because no one wants to be perceived as racist or risk offending other members. We realized early on that if we were going to make any progress, we needed to get past tiptoeing and have REAL conversations, so we established ground rules to make the space as safe as possible.

In creating those ground rules, someone suggested that we get comfortable calling each other out if we’re offended by anything that is said. This way, she explained, we would be able to address any hurt feelings rather than walking away not knowing if we’d accidentally offended. We all nodded, seeing the benefit to this approach.

Then another person in the group suggested a modification. “Instead of agreeing to call each other out, could we agree to call each other in?”

He was met by some puzzled looks that slowly gave way to smiling nods as we realized what a difference that one small tweak would make.

Calling someone OUT is about holding them accountable in a confrontational way. It puts them on the spot, implies a moral high ground for the person challenging them, and is likely to create defensiveness. Think about the last time you called someone out. How did it go? Did you deepen your relationship with the other person? Probably not. In fact, they may have walked away thinking you were a jerk.

Calling someone IN does the opposite. Instead of judging, you try to understand. You come from a place of curiosity and ask questions to understand. You invite them to clarify their thinking – which not only helps you understand where they’re coming from, but also often helps them recognize where they may have originally missed the mark. It invites deeper conversation as opposed to being a one-sided rebuke. Imagine how this conversation might go.

You’ve probably used both techniques at different times without even realizing what you were doing. What I like about “calling someone in” is that in naming the behavior, we raise our awareness of it which makes it an overt choice we can make. From my experience, the leaders who get the best from their team (and teammates) operate from this place, because it pulls their people closer instead of pushing them away.

So the next time you have a bone to pick with someone, what’s it going to be? Call ’em out, or call ’em in? I’d be curious to hear what you choose and what you notice.

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