The Ins and Outs of Managing
Miriam Bamberger, CPCC, and Heather Bradley, CPCC, are the co-founders of The Flourishing Company, which helps emerging professionals sharpen their leadership skills to generate immediate and lasting changes in their ability to successfully manage complex work relationships. For additional information, visit: www.TheFlourishingCompany.com.
Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars….
You only could play if your bellies had stars
And the Plain-Belly children had none upon thars.
In the book, The Sneetches, Dr. Seuss described the troubling problem of ingroup-outgroup dynamics. Sadly, Dr. Seuss' story is just as relevant today as it was when he wrote it. The phenomenon of ingroups and outgroups is still with us today, on playgrounds, colleges, and in the workplace.
Discrimination may be less overt, with once common behaviors now unthinkable from a legal or moral point of view. With many objectionable behaviors now banished, some people think that diversity is no longer an issue.
However, others know this is far from the case. Dr. Marilynn B. Brewer refers to this pervasive problem as "subtle" bias. Brewer explains it is "not the presence of strong negative attitudes toward minority outgroups but the absence of positive sentiments toward those groups" that pose the biggest problems now. (Source: The Psychology of Prejudice: Ingroup Love or Outgroup Hate? © 1999; The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.)
Subtle though it may be, this bias is just as real as the transparent behaviors of the past. The challenge for those who are part of the ingroup is to recognize that their behavior, however unintentional, may be having a negative impact. The challenge for those who are part of the outgroup is to recognize that, however painful, the subtle bias develops not from hostility, but from lack of awareness, indifference and, oddly enough, respect.
According to Brewer, "Discrimination between ingroups and outgroups is a matter of relative favoritism toward the ingroup and the absence of equivalent favoritism toward the outgroups. Within this framework, outgroups can be viewed with indifference, sympathy, even admiration, as long as intergroup distinctiveness is maintained."
Often, those in the ingroup aren't even aware that ingroups and outgroups exist. As Scott Mitchell wrote, "(M)ost white male attorneys never think of themselves as white, much less a race; they are the regular guys…" (Source: "Not Just a Regular Guy," by Scott Mitchell, Diversity & the Bar ®, September 2001.)
This lack of awareness can stem from assuming that everyone perceives the world the same way – your way.
Imported Beer and Canned Chili
In their 2003 Financial Times article, Andrew Gershoff and Eric Johnson discuss this phenomenon, "false consensus effect." According to this principle, people tend to think their own attitudes are more common than they really are. To compound the problem, those same people place too much confidence in the accuracy of their estimates. (Source: "Avoid the Trap of Thinking Everyone is Just Like You," by Andrew Gershoff and Eric Johnson, Financial Times, August 29, 2003, p. 7.)
The authors report on a 1993 study in which U.S. managers were asked to estimate the amount of imported beer sold in U.S. supermarkets and the amount of canned chili purchased by U.S. households. Each manager was also asked how much he or she personally liked and purchased these two products. Gershoff and Johnson explain, "At the time of the study, only about two percent of beer sold in U.S. supermarkets was imported. The executives, who tended to like and buy imported beer, gave an average estimate of 20 percent. On average, the more an executive liked imported beer, the higher was his or her estimate of the amount sold.
Canned chili, on the other hand, is a product that was largely disliked and was rarely purchased by U.S. executives. While 40 percent of U.S. households buy it in a given year, the executives' estimate was only 28 percent. Again, the more an executive personally shied away from canned chili, the lower was his or her estimated purchase for the country as a whole." Further, the study found that these executives were wildly overconfident in the certainty of their estimates.
The lesson is clear. We form opinions based on our own preferences and perspectives and give too much weight to decisions and assessments based on these opinions. The lesson extends into the workplace. We typically assume others have the same wants and needs we do. We evaluate our behavior from our own perspectives, rather than from the recipients. We may reward others with the proverbial canned chili because we want it, rather than the imported beer they'd prefer. Then we're confused when they don't respond as we'd expected.
So what is a person to do?
The Flourishing Process can help you assess your workplace and your role in it.
Identify the ingroups and outgroups in your workplace. It's tempting to deny they exist, however, most organizations, whether professional or social, have ingroups and outgroups. Ask yourself:
- How do I select who is on my team? How do I select who is not on my team?
- Whom do I ask to work on my assignments? Whom do I not ask to work on my assignments?
- How do I contribute to the existence of ingroups and outgroups?
Denying the problem doesn't solve it. Be brutally honest to get the true clarity you need to address the situation. You may not like the answers, but a realistic assessment of the current situation is necessary to decide what changes to make.
You have been making choices about the ingroups and outgroups in your workplace all along, whether consciously or not. With new clarity about what you want to be different, we challenge you to make active and deliberate choices about how you will address your role in ingroup-outgroup interactions.
- What do you need to do more/less of?
- What do you need to start/stop doing?
- What will you continue/stop tolerating?
Complete the sentence: Today I choose to ____________________________.
Two suggestions from the Financial Times article can help make these choices real:
- Make decisions based on data – Do your own market research inside your organization. Ask the people you work with how you're doing and what they'd like to be different. Don't assume you know what they want. As Jeffrey Fox, author of How to Become a Rainmaker, said, you may think you know the answer, but that's irrelevant. What's important is to get direct and honest feedback directly from the source.
- Employ diverse teams of people – On projects of all sizes and importance, ask for input from a variety of perspectives, so that many constituencies are represented, not only the voices that are usually included. Diversity includes not only a mix of race and gender, but also diverse experiences and points of view. The broader the range of contributions, the better decisions your organization will make.
- What will you do differently, starting today?
- What will you do by the end of the month?
- What will you do over the next six months?
Recognizing that ingroups and outgroups exist in your organization is the first step to managing diversity. While progress has been made, there is still a long way to go before people who are different are treated fairly, until we will see the world the good doctor envisioned:
…Sneetches are Sneetches
And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.
Miriam Bamberger and Heather Bradley are the cofounders of The Flourishing Company, which helps emerging professionals sharpen their leadership skills to generate immediate and lasting changes in their ability to successfully manage complex work relationships. For additional information, visit: www.TheFlourishingCompany.com.
D&B Brief – Teleclass
In 2003, MCCA® initiated an integrated strategy to assist members in taking responsibility for their professional development. This article is the fifth in a series that will address a collection of specific skills to assist members in proactively managing their own careers. Each article is supported by a companion teleclass known as Diversity & the Bar® Briefs.
The Ins and Outs of Managing teleclass is scheduled for December 3 at 4:00 p.m. (eastern standard time). Registration is on a first-come basis and will be limited. For additional information, contact MCCA at 202.371.5909. Register and dial-in!
From the November/December 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®