As a mentor new to the ADA fold, Auriel Majumdar knows what it takes to work with people and their inner thoughts and feelings in order to bring out their best when external forces seem to be too challenging.
At its heart, it seems to me that working towards audience diversity seems to be about our ability to persuade and influence – persuading people that what we’re offering is interesting and relevant to them and influencing powerful decision makers in our organisations that investing time and energy into genuinely diversifying what we do is worthwhile.
As I’ve been mentoring Fellows on ADA 3.0 these themes of persuasion and influence have come up time and time again as people have explored with me how to have the conversations that they need to have with potential audiences or with colleagues to make the impacts that they want. And based on what they tell me these conversations are difficult for a number of reasons.
Speaking your truth is hard. It takes courage and integrity to say the challenging things that need to be spoken if audience diversity is to become a reality. And often we silence ourselves before we even begin by worrying about the reaction we might get, not wanting to offend or get a reputation as ‘difficult’. Organisations and communities are complex and subtle which can make speaking up and saying what you want to say a risky business.
Language is ever changing and the debates about gender fluidity and now age and race fluidity mean that the words we use can land in ways we never intended. When I was a young professional in the early 1980s for instance, we bristled at the use of the word ‘coloured’ for its colonial connotations but now People of Colour is an acceptable term – the changes in language are nuanced and it can be hard to keep up which silences us even more for fear of saying the wrong thing or being offensive. But the chances of open, constructive conversation are even lower if we can’t find a common language to speak to each other. I’d say that our trans brothers and sisters have much to teach us here – if we feel hesitant about language why not have a dialogue about that and ask people and communities how they want to be named?
Listening is a taken for granted art. We think we listen, sure we go out into communities and ask questions and probably believe that we take heed of what we hear. But genuinely, truly listening takes more. It requires a laying aside of own ego, our own agendas to give complete and utter attention to the other person in the conversation. Trust me this is harder than it sounds but once you’ve mastered the art of deep listening the conversations you have will be transformed. People will open up to you in ways you would never expect and you will find out so much more about what interests and motivates them.
The key to having the conversations we need to persuade, influence and ultimately engage people in the work we are trying to do here seems to me to be creating the right conditions for open, honest dialogue. Working from a place of respect for ourselves and for others which will help us speak our truth, make language our ally not our enemy and listen deeply and with humility to other people and their stories.