A short thread on Twitter yesterday prompted today’s blog. Dr. Jen Gunter (who I do not follow) mentioned her planned response to “I don’t have a question, it’s more of a comment.“
One of the replies I thought completely missed the point and I tried to respond in a somewhat humorous but pointed way to the man replying. It took him about 9 hours, but he finally replied and I think based on his reply, completely missed my point. Oh well. I had tried.
But it got me thinking. Had I been blunt enough? Should I have been a bit more confrontational? Could *I* stand up at a conference and give Dr. Gunter’s pointed reply? And of course, the nagging question in the back of my head, “had I commented when I a question was the appropriate response?” or otherwise ended up “centering the discussion around me rather than the original person?”
Let me address the last first. I’m sure I have. I like to think “well I’m a friendly guy, I like to relate and show I’m relatable.” And that’s all true, but, that’s also part of the problem. It’s a case of recentering a discussion or something around me. I’ve always tried to be conscious of this since college when I took a class at the women’s college down the hill and realized that what I had heard about men dominating discussions was true. In a class of about 20 students, with just 3 men, one of the men (and no, it wasn’t me) clearly dominated the discussion.
Anyway, back to my response. I actually sometimes am jealous of some of my friends who can have “I have no fucks to give” attitude and will openly confront someone like that. I think sometimes that can be a good thing, especially with a more egregious example. And I’ve seen some that are pretty bad.
My attempt to deflect the one tweeter’s reply with a bit of humor apparently failed. So I started to think about how I might handle this at an actual seminar and then I realized I had.
It was at a SQL Saturday a number of years ago. It was a good topic, though, for reasons unknown to me, the presenter has not, to my knowledge presented again. And then there was the raised hand. It was someone I knew. And, he had more of a question than a comment. Then again about 10 minutes later. And I think probably a 3rd time. Now, he was in now way being mean or malicious. Heck, I think no matter how hard you looked, you’d never find a mean bone in him. He’s genuinely a decent guy.
But, and this is what I think we all need to do, after the talk, I pulled him aside and pointed out what he had done. He as embarrassed and apologetic. And he vowed to do better.
And as I write that, I realize, this happened TO me. See, I said I wasn’t perfect and I had failed. This time it was on Twitter. I typed a reply that I meant to be supportive and add a touch of humor. A friend DM’d me, “Really?” At first I was confused, but when I asked for her to expand, she pointed out what I had done. Yes, I had meant well, but sometimes intentions are less important than results or even perceptions. I decided to delete my comment, despite her saying it wasn’t necessary. I realized I had not contributed to the discussion and my comment could be a distraction that wasn’t needed. And since them I’ve tried to be better. But a comment she said stood out to me. She DMd me because she thought I was one of the “good ones” that I’d listen and accept feedback. That meant a lot to me. She could have ignored my comment and let me continue to be a jerk at times, or she could have publicly called me out and humiliated me, which might made her point publicly, but caused me to be hurt and not grow. She took the time. I appreciate that.
However, yesterday’s Twitter thread reminded me that all too often in situations like this, women and other minority (in that environment) group end up doing the emotional labor of trying to keep the discussion from recentering the discussion the “I have more of a comment than reply” crow.
Therefore, I think often the onus needs to be on us men to call out our fellow men to say, “hey, that’s not cool” or “do you realize how you came across there? I know you didn’t mean that.” We can’t rely on women and other minority groups to do all the emotional labor. So if you see someone trying to talk over a speaker, pull them aside. If you hear them make an off-color comment in a meeting, speak up. Call out behavior. Find a method that works for you.
I prefer, but am not always good about doing it, calling our behavior a bit more publicly. Not necessarily to embarrass the commenter, but to hopefully get them to correct their behavior and so that the original speaker knows they have support.
For example, if someone in a meeting makes a comment about “yeah, let the girls over in accounting handle it”, unless this is an accounting class for teenagers at an all-girls school, you can and should say “Umm, you mean the women right?”
You don’t have to humiliate a person to make the point. In most cases, the person doing it may not be aware and simply needs a nudge. Give them that chance like I was given. Now, in the end, there will be a few folks that do need to be simply called out and made an example of. I’m ok with that, but for the vast majority let’s work to give them the nudge.