When Saline, KS County Commissioner Jim Gile used racially insulting language during a recent meeting he had no idea he was setting off a whirlwind of national reaction. And he probably would not have predicted that a video of his wife defending his honor would be going viral via the internet a few days later.
I earlier mentioned her statement was one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of what NOT to do when responding to criticism or feedback related to a cultural collision. But criticizing her response does little to help others know what they could do that would be better if they ever found themselves in a similar situation.
For more than 15 years we’ve been teaching people the 5A-Approach to Responding to Culturally Based Criticism:
1. Accept the criticism.
2. Acquire information.
3. Ask for expectations.
4. Commit to Action.
5. Express appreciation for the feedback.
Obviously, this five-step process should be followed up with taking the action you committed to in step 4. And when possible give feedback to the critical person or group after changes have been made or after their concerns have been shared.
Would you like a copy of the 5 Steps Poster we share with our clients? It includes a little more detail in a one-page format to help you implement each of the five steps with confidence.
An elected official in Kansas used a racial slur in a meeting last week. It was wrong. He apologized. And different people or groups are still suggesting he resign.
But the most interesting development in this chain of events is his wife stepping into the public spotlight to defend his use of the term. She also emphasizes what a great guy he is. And of course, they have a “colored” or “black” friend.
This is one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of what NOT to do when responding to criticism or feedback related to a cultural collision.
Should Jim Gile resign from his elected position? Should he (and his wife) be required to go through “diversity training?” These two questions are getting a lot of attention. If you look at this as just a public relations crisis you’ll handle it one way. If you consider it a reflection of your leadership values and organizational culture your response might be very different.
In your organization, what would you do if a prominent and visible leader made a completely inappropriate comment related to race, gender, sexual orientation or other dimension of diversity? What training do you have in place to reduce the likelihood of this happening? And what systems do you have in place to manage the process if something like this did occur?
Having a strategic diversity plan can help you avoid – and respond to – the real-world challenges in a multicultural, multigenerational, multiethnic workplace.