Small Shifts and Race Relations

What if a small shift could improve race relations?

One leader did. The Shift Effect chronicles small shifts with big impact. In this case, a white male leader was frustrated that his business relationship with a black female colleague was more contentious than smooth.

Like anyone in a work relationship, he had complaints about her, but I was coaching him, not her, so we used the notion of Focus on Your Own Functioning, a guideline in the book. We looked at his patterns with her, not hers.

His feeling was that he was not a racist, and that he wasn’t thinking or acting in ways that were directed toward his colleague’s race.

But his opinion of himself in those situations kept the relationship stuck (just as perhaps her opinions of him might have as well). So we discussed loosening up that stuck place. What could he shift, whether in attitude or behavior, to break the logjam?

The two shifts he made were simple, but not easy. First, instead of sticking with his self-evaluation, we discussed moving his attitude from one of certainty to curiosity. If she made a comment about his acting like every white guy, rather than denying it, why not take a curious stand, such as, “Oh. Interesting, I didn’t see it that way. Tell me what you see. Tell me how that affects you.”

The second shift was to invite his colleague to a meal to discuss the relationship. So rather than keeping the relationship stuck, he moved, he initiated.

There wasn’t a magical “poof” moment. The effort took time. But it worked. The two became trusted colleagues, even friends. Just a small attitudinal and behavioral “getting off the dime,” if you will.

See more simple shifts to tough problems in my book, The Shift Effect, on Amazon at