When someone says something hurtful, whether to us or to someone else, it’s easy to retreat into ourselves. After all, much of the popular self-help wisdom out there advises us that it’s a sign of maturity to let hurtful statements roll off our backs.
When we see another person subjected to stereotypical comments or prejudice, we might think it’s up to them to respond. How can we know what hurts or offends anyone else – and who are we to step in to defend someone?
Yet prejudicial, stereotypical statements are painful, whether they’re directed at us or at another individual or a group we don’t belong to. We all react in some way. It could be an actual physical flinch, or it could be an internal contraction of emotional pain or embarrassment, but the reaction is there, and we feel it. (Even if we may secretly agree with what’s been said, we still react; we can’t help it.)
It’s hard to know what to do. We may want to say something, but most of us don’t enjoy confrontation. We also know that it’s almost impossible to change someone’s opinions and beliefs – so why even try?
Fortunately, there are a few simple, easy, non-confrontational ways to approach situations such as these. Our recommended training video (listed below) demonstrates them in detail; here are three examples.
- When a stereotypical statement has been made as part of a casual conversation, simply say, “I’m not going there!” Then you can either excuse yourself and walk away, or change the subject to something less painful.
- When someone makes a comment about a member of a group – for example, “All Martians are dusty!” – narrow the focus to an individual. “Do you mean all Martians, or are you talking about one in particular? Because if you mean Qwxl, I’ve never seen any dust on him!”
- Or … just say “Ouch!” It’s surprising how that simple expression of the painful impact you felt can make people stop and think about what they’re saying – and what they really mean.
One person – as we’ve said in several of these blog articles recently – really can make a difference.
Recommended Training Resource: OUCH! That Stereotype Hurts demonstrates the impact of stereotypical comments and teaches techniques for speaking up without applying blame or guilt.
And be on the lookout for a brand new release (coming in early March), titled Gateways to Inclusion: Turning Tense Moments into Productive Conversations, featuring Dr. Sondra Thiederman. It offers information on how to turn diversity missteps and awkward moments into “gateway events” that lead to greater understanding.