Powerful Questions for Correcting Someone’s Diversity Misconceptions

Does Confrontation Work? Many diversity trainers believe that confronting people about their prejudice increases awareness of how their negative beliefs make problems for others.

The early U.S. military race relations training approach is a good example of the confrontation method. In an effort to promote racial harmony, the military required several weeks of race relations training in “boot camp.” Most of the white male recruits were put on the “hot seat.” This meant that they had to endure lengthy epithets from facilitators and participants of color about being prejudice and responsible for promoting racism.

Many white recruits became more resistant to supporting racial harmony after the training. Others became more prejudice. Another group became race relations fanatics. The fanatics internalized the epitaphs to the extent that they became social justice advocates in confronting racism in all its forms. The main problem for the fanatics was that they had trouble adjusting at home when on leave. They were out of place with parents, family, and friends.

Their relatives reactions were so alarming that military commanders reduced the number of required race relations training weeks and the confrontation methods were curbed.

Self confrontation methods emerged about the time that the military changed its approach. Morton Rokeach, a psychologist, was one of the first to use the term. He had people list their values and beliefs to see if any gaps exist. For example, a person who regarded personal freedom as more important than equality is considered to suffer from belief incongruence. This is based on the assumption that equality involves the belief that each person should be able to make life choices free of obstacles.

Rokeach discovered that people experience discomfort when their belief incongruence when they realize that there is a discrepancy in their set of beliefs. A common result is that they seek ways to make their beliefs more consistent or congruent.

This means, for example, that a person who believed she is not prejudiced may choose to behave more consistent with the belief once the incongruence is noticed. A person may also choose to accept that being prejudice when she or he thought otherwise. In either case, the person seeks congruency.

The diversity trainer will be more effectiveness with self confrontation in many cases. It will allow the trainer to maintain a high degree of professionalism and high evaluations while dealing with volatile subjects. However, there will be circumstances when an individual may benefit from direct confrontation by a skilled professional. The most important difference is that the individual should volunteer to be scrutinized in this manner to reduce resistance. In contrast, self confrontation puts the burden of checking out one’s beliefs in the client’s hands.

The use of powerful questions underlies the effectiveness of self confrontation. The following powerful questions are 10 ways to gracefully correct someone’s diversity misconceptions:

1. Are you speaking from personal experience or giving us objective facts?

2. I have a different take on that. May I share it?

3. Is it possible that there is another cultural approach, solution or source that is different from your view?

4. That’s generally true among certain groups, but I wonder if it is true for this group.

5. Can you tell me more about your thinking behind that approach or conclusion?

6. Are you thinking that your conclusion is helpful in understanding a person who is different from you?

7. I wonder if we have all the facts or data needed to make such a judgment.

8. How can I most help you understand my cultural perspective, right now?

9. What led you to the decision that what you stated is true about that group of people?

10. Hmm. That’s very interesting. Will you educate me so that I can understand why you view differences that way?

About the author. Billy Vaughn, PhD CDP is a certified diversity professional with DTUI.com. He is a master certification trainer, cultural competence coach, sought after consultant, professional speaker, accomplished author, and cultural diversity thought leader. He can be reach at billy at dtui.com.


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