Why didn’t I say anything?

Program teaches strategies for managing difficult multicultural discussions to victims of offensive behavior.

How many times have you heard offensive comments about different cultures, races or people in general but failed to “speak up?” I have been faced with the situation countless times in various settings, where friends, family, colleagues or acquaintances have made offensive comments to varying degrees. Generally, people undergoing this awkwardness and discomfort remain silent in expressing their dislike for the offensiveness because they are not equipped with the confidence and methods for handling the situation any differently.

Recently, I attended a professional development program from Michigan State University Extension which focused on developing leadership skills to manage difficult multicultural discussions. Extension educators and specialists delivered this one-day program titled “Leadership in Dealing with Difficult Multicultural Discussions,” at the Ziibiwing Cultural Center in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., which covered types of oppression towards various minority groups within society.

The program dealt with specific topics that many of us often face in and out of the workforce and are not quite sure how to manage, such as the role emotions play in conflict or authentic relationship-building. One topic specifically that stood out addressed the issue of “Why aren’t people willing to speak up?” This can be a frustrating experience for individuals as witnesses to and victims of offensive behavior remain silent and inferior. The silence and inferiority that many of us experience in these situations can be equally problematic as victims and those offended often leave the situation feeling frustrated and asking “Why didn’t I say anything?” or “Why didn’t I stand up for myself and/or the others being targeted?”

For the most part, most of us are just simply scared to speak up for fear of being seen as different or problematic in their work/family environment and/or labeled ourselves.

Both instructors for this one-day workshop presented a number of strategies for empowering individuals (or groups) wishing to take leadership toward managing difficult multi-cultural discussions. Their strategies below are “approaches to positive confrontation” from Pace 4 Change, MSU Extension, 2011:

  1. Be aware of yourself
  2. Find your center of powerfulness
  3. Decide to confront publicly or privately
  4. Be respectful and constructive
  5. Be clear
  6. Use “I” statements
  7. Use “softening statements”
  8. Provide accurate information
  9. Invite further discussion
  10. Remember that silence is consent

Almost everyone has been in a situation where they have regretted not directly confronting a situation they felt they should have, and, as a result, oftentimes we say to themselves, “Next time I will say something for sure!” Whether it is next time or the time after that, there is no better time to “say something” then at the moment you feel it is appropriate. Adopting strategies such as those presented and attending trainings will help advance your confidence in managing difficult multicultural discussions. 

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