Dear Say What, I frequently find myself curious about people's race, gender, or sexuality. I'm concerned that asking questions about those topics could feel hurtful to people. I am usually quite curious and love to challenge my judgments I have, however, had experiences where people felt threatened and put up their boundaries while attacking me through shaming and guilting. How would you suggest going about this? Signed, Judgment Buster
Dear Judgment Buster, There are a few things to consider when navigating these types of situations: #1 Ask for consent first. For example, “I’m noticing I have an assumption and I want to ask to see if it's accurate - are you open to a question?” (wait for consent) #2 Share your intent. Do you want to connect or feel closer to this person? Let them know! Some guardedness might come from not knowing the intent of your inquiry. For example, "Since we'll be working together, I'd love to connect and get to know you more." #3 Ask open-ended questions. By asking questions that don't have a predictable answer (e.g. yes or no), it allows space for the person to share more with you using their own words. It can also result in a "softer" impact. For example, rather than saying “Are you gay?” You could say “I’m curious, what’s your sexual orientation?”.
#4 Use ownership language. That is, share your assumption without projecting or labeling the person. Really take responsibility for the fact that any assumption, unless confirmed, is literally just a made-up story in your brain.
Lastly, remember: you're not responsible for people's feelings. You can communicate as skillfully and consciously as you want and people may still feel hurt, offended, or guarded.
If you continue to hone your skills as a conscious, compassionate communicator, you'll be doing your part. Just remember that it takes two to tango... or in this case, communicate. Signed, Say What ❤️🙏 ----------------- ❓ Want advice on how to handle a situation consciously and compassionately? 📧 Write us at: firstname.lastname@example.org -----------------