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Creating a Just Workplace with Author Kim Scott

We all want a just, inclusive work environment where everyone feels heard and valued ... but where do we start? Kim Scott, the bestselling author of Radical Candor, shares the lessons that informed her new book, Just Work: Get Sh*t Done, Fast & Fair in this interview with Modern Mentor. And they're just the tools and vocabulary you need!

By
Rachel Cooke
4-minute read
Episode #641
The Quick And Dirty

Being on the right side of workplace justice means recognizing bias, prejudice, and bullying when you see them, and being the upstander who is unafraid to shut them down.

  • Bias is an unconscious belief
  • Prejudice is a consciouos belief
  • Bullying is bad workplace behavior

We all want to work in environments that feel safe, inclusive, and accessible to everyone. But when something infringes on that sense of safety, we don’t always have the language or the tools to tackle it.

Kim Scott, author of the New York Times bestseller Radical Candor is striving to change that. In her new book JUST WORK: Get Sh*t Done, Fast & Fair, Kim offers a simple framework for recognizing and responding to bias, prejudice, and bullying. Her practical suggestions give us something we can put into practice today to start clearing away the inefficiency of inequity so we can just work.

Kim joined me for a chat that was vulnerable and funny and full of wisdom coming from her eight-year-old daughter. Listen to the full conversation on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform, or just click the audio player above.

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The difference between bias, prejudice, and bullying in the workplace

What's the difference between bias, prejudice, and bullying? Simply put, Kim says: "Bias is not meaning it, prejudice is meaning it, and bullying is being mean.”

  • Bias reflects an unconscious belief system that may impact how we engage with others.
  • Prejudice is conscious—when we knowingly believe something to be true about someone due to a fundamental attribute (gender, race, sexuality, etc.)
  • Bullying is bad behavior meant to intimidate, belittle, or otherwise hurt another.

“The real benefit of beginning to distinguish between these three things is that the response to them needs to be very different,” Kim says.

How to respond to workplace injustice that happens to you

So what’s the key, then, to addressing each of these in the workplace?

BIAS

“If it’s unconscious bias,” Kim says, “I find it's best to respond with an ‘I statement…’ [which] invites the person to understand things from your perspective."

I don't think you mean that the way it sounded.

PREJUDICE

“When you’re dealing with someone’s prejudice," she continues, “you need an ‘it statement.’ People can believe whatever they want, but they can not do or say whatever they want. An ‘it statement’ can appeal to the law… to a code of conduct… or to an HR policy."

It's a violation of our HR policy to _____.

BULLYING

“With bullying, you want to respond with a ‘you statement’ that pushes the person away from you."

You can’t talk to me like that.

Kim confessed that her perspective on how to confront bullying was shaped by her third-grade daughter who was being bullied at school.

When Kim's daughter approached her about the bullying, Kim initially suggested she use an “I statement,” telling the bully how his behavior made her feel. But her daughter wisely pointed out that making her feel bad was the bully's goal! "He’s making me sad!" she said. "Telling him how I feel would be like giving him a cookie and telling him he’s won.”

How to be an upstander when workplace injustice happens to others

Whether it’s bias, prejudice, or bullying that’s reared its ugly head, the key to combatting it is to be an upstander.

A bystander observes, but an upstander stands up and intervenes.

What's an upstander? It's the opposite of a bystander. A bystander observes, but an upstander stands up and intervenes.

Being an upstander does come with risk. Kim shared the caveat that it's important not to think of yourself as “somebody [who] charges in and [wants to] play the role of Knight in Shining Armor. When I say 'upstander,' I mean standing up to the injustice, not asserting yourself as the stronger person than the [one] who’s [being] harmed.”

Kim pointed out that, in addition to standing up, offering support to the affected person is equally important. After witnessing an injustice, consider approaching the affected person to validate their experience and offer some kindness in return: "Gosh, I noticed this. Are you OK?"

"It's almost like gaslighting when something obviously bad happens and nobody comes up to you," Kim explained. "So your role as an upstander, even if you just approach the person who was harmed and talk to them later, is really important."

How should leaders address bias?

Kim recommends creating bias interrupters: "...a shared vocabulary on the team that everyone will use to flag bias when they observe it in a meeting." Words matter, she said, but she can't tell leaders what words to use with their own teams. "You're going to have to choose the words that work for you."

One team she referenced literally flags bias during meetings by throwing purple flags. Another used a simple, straightforward phrase: "Bias alert!"

When a bias is flagged, team members have two ways to respond:

  1. "You're right. I'm sorry. Thanks for pointing that out."
  2. "I don't quite get it. Can we talk after the meeting?"

Have a listen to the entire interview to hear more incredible insights from Kim. You can also pick up JUST WORK from your favorite bookseller or on Amazon.

About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.