People need to see you make it safe to participate. If they don’t see you do it, they won’t do it either.
I was reading the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. One section really caught my attention. He was talking about why things that are public and easily observable catch on more than things that are private. People use other people to judge the value of things. If someone rejects a kidney, other people will think it’s a sub-par kidney and reject it even if they need one to survive. Even in preschool, children play with the toys that other children play with. And – if no one asks a question after a presentation, then no one else will either. They will think no one else is confused, so they won’t admit they are either.
“Behavior is public and thoughts are private.” (p. 134) If you want to make your work place a safe place to speak up, then people need to see behavior that supports that. People need to see that you don’t shame people who ask questions, that you thank people for bringing up opposing views, that you ask for more opinions and don’t want people to just say what you say.
If the boss can do all this, that’s best. If the boss doesn’t, then rank and file people can do it too. It helps if there’s more than just one. The more observable behavior people see, the more they can imitate. So even if you don’t see other people doing it, you can be the shining example that lets others know it’s okay to challenge bigotry, or it’s desirable to question the way things have always been done. Get a friend to back you, and the behavior you model may in fact become contagious.
In other news: I will need to miss next week’s blog. Back in two weeks!