What is right, can never be impossible! - Captain Sir John Lindsay, in the film Belle
Almost ten years ago, I had the privilege to present at a
When Tracey West, then the Associate Dean of External Relations, Diversity & Inclusion at Boston College Law School approached the conference room, she made a beeline straight to me. She said, “I’d like you to be my coach. Is that ok?” I welcomed Tracey and we went to find a quiet place to sit and talk. Before we started the coaching session, Tracey told me, “I really enjoyed your section of the presentation, and I knew right away I wanted to work with you. Look. I even wrote in my notes, “the engaging black coach.” I smiled, looked at her notes, felt very humbled as Tracey described me as “engaging,” and then looked at Tracey and said, “You think I’m black?” And she nodded and smiled while saying “Yes.” I immediately asked Tracey, “Are you?” Tracey said “of course.” And I said, “Wow, I thought you were white...and by the way, I’m not black, I’m white.” We both roared with laughter at how wrong we both were. However, it led to a great conversation and an even better professional and personal relationship.
So, other than laugh, what did we do next? We did what lots of mothers do and showed each other pictures of our kids and commented on their color too. My white son looked darker than her black children. We laughed. And then I showed her my daughter with fair skin, blond hair and green eyes, and we laughed again about the unpredictability of genes. Our curiosity about each other, our cultures, backgrounds and life experiences provided the stage for candid, respectful and open communication. Since we approached each other with curiosity, a safe space for genuine and honest conversation developed. I asked Tracey about being a black woman in America today, and Tracey inquired about my ethnic and religious background as an
Commonalities were easy to find: professionals, mothers, spouses and proud Americans.
Likewise, we were both interested in learning and development, so there was plenty to talk about. Being curious about our differences with a healthy respect for each other has given us both many teachable moments, particularly when societal pressures may threaten to inhibit individual dialogues.
I see echoes of our interactions in the 2013 film
Adi Ignatius references recent research in the Harvard Business Review article, “
The author notes: “Curiosity improves decision making because it reduces our susceptibility to stereotypes and to
Judging –> Understanding –> Respecting –> Appreciating –> Valuing Differences*
*Based on DiSC® Classic, ©2011 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. “DiSC” and “Wiley” are registered trademarks of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Choosing curiosity as a tool when encountering someone different from ourselves provides the platform for understanding. Think of it this way: as humans, we climb to the first rung of the curiosity ladder when someone is different from us. This rung is called “Judging.” And the behavior of judging one another can cause conflict. If we choose to rise on the curiosity ladder, the next rung is “Understanding.” On this rung, we can choose to practice curiosity and inquire and ask questions to gain a better understanding. If we choose to go higher, we can move to the next rung of the ladder, “Respecting,” and demonstrate respect for each other’s differences. From there we can strive to go even higher by “Appreciating” each other’s differences. The top rung of the ladder is only one level higher: “Valuing” our differences. As we reach the height of “Valuing Differences,” we are so far away from judging that we can instead choose to value the unique and exquisite differences that our friends and colleagues bring to our work and our lives.
Perhaps when the majority of us get there, we will have transformed society! I remain hopeful that our society can get there as a whole. The clip “
Natalie Loeb, M.S., is the founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership. With more than 25 years of experience as an executive coach to leaders and high potential managers in law firms, Natalie is recognized as an innovator in the area of leadership within the legal profession. For her core clients, medium to large AmLaw 100 firms, Natalie and her team create and execute flexible programming to enhance leadership capacity and build high-trust work cultures.
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