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Intention or Perception?

Intention or Perception?

It is unlikely that you’ve missed the increasing number of headlines in recent weeks resulting from people sharing stories of incidents where they have felt harassed or discriminated against. It seems likely that some of these incidents will result in serious criminal proceedings. 

Whatever the outcome, we can all learn from the experiences now being shared – as a manager we have a responsibility to create a working environment in which all of our employees feel safe. 

In the UK, it is the Equality Act of 2010 that provides a framework for ensuring that no one feels harassed, bullied or discriminated against because of, amongst other things, their race, gender, sexuality, age, disability or religion. Many other countries have similar legislation designed to protect citizen’s basic human rights.

From the point of view of judging our own actions and those in our team, it is important to remember one key fact:

The intentions of the person displaying the behaviour are not relevant;
it is how their behaviour is perceived by others that matters.

If you think this seems unduly harsh, consider any time when you felt or saw someone bullied. How often did the ‘bully’ say something along the lines of “Oh it was just a bit of fun” or “I didn’t mean it like that”?

Experience tells me that pretty much every incident you are thinking of has been justified in this way by the perpetrator(s).

This is the exact reason why we should consider our conduct, not in the light of what we intend, but how we make the other person feel. Need persuading? Think of some of the tales making headlines right now; how often do you think the feeling of the person on the receiving end of the alleged behaviours was given due consideration?

One of the reasons that I am especially proud to work for Glasstap is how equality is integral to our core values. One of the first exercises any of our customers (both Trainers’ Library and Managers’ Library) encounters is the marvellous Witches of Glum. So powerful is this exercise that the organisation Show Racism the Red Card endorses it and uses it to demonstrate how often our assumptions get in the way of our perceptions of individuals/situations. 

We also have lots of other great exercises that you can share with your team to help them understand why Equal Opportunities matter. In particular, you might want to use Intentions v Perceptions and The Diversity Spectrum with your team. Another great option that triggers some brilliant debates is The House. I love it because it is a fantastic way to explore the fact that our own personal view point means that we can see the exact same situation quite differently….

Finally, if you ever want to refresh yourself about what constitutes bullying and harassment (something, I am sure, none of us ever wants to be guilty of), I recommend that you look at this great Video.

Until next time...


November 2 2017 Frances Ferguson
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Frances Ferguson

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