In an era where the authenticity of news and facts are coming under constant scrutiny it is important to also take a look at political correctness. Political correctness is supposed to be a system of behaviour that requires persons to express themselves or act in a way that is inclusive and respectful toward persons who are being discriminated against.
While this is probably the original meaning of political correctness (PC behaviour), the term politically correct seems to be a catch-all phrase used when persons are being duplicitous or superficial, using a façade of respect to cover their true intentions. When political correctness transforms into behaviours that facilitate disingenuous conversations, persons end up walking on eggshells not wanting to say anything that could possibly be misconstrued.
Over-time, political correctness has taken two paths. One is a path of inauthenticity where PC comments are so watered down that statements that should correct a situation somehow end up sounding congratulatory. When this happens the information being communicated is covering up the real message because the desire to avoid offending others has become so great that actions and words diminish the meaning or intended message.
When a leader displays an inability to accept any type of feedback, they are usually the same ones who assure you that they welcome your feedback and when you provide it, they retaliate because they really want you to tell them how great they are. In situations like this, once bitten, team members avoid saying anything at all or they placate the team leader.
A second path that political correctness has taken is an expanded politically correct path where anything that could be construed as offensive to minority or majority groups is avoided. In circumstances like these, communicators lack the courage or the skills to confront constructively. The risk here is that if someone is on your team and you refrain from providing feedback because it may seem like you are stereotyping him/ her, holding back can also have a detrimental effect on your team.
Politically correct behaviour can lead to diminished constructive confrontation skills and when persons are unable or unwilling to confront, there are multiple risks that can emerge. This is because when PC behaviour has become a part of the culture, persons are hired who will not rock the boat. Instead, they naturally voice opinions that sound curiously like the opinions of the hiring manager.
This is risky behaviour it means persons with different opinions will be unwilling to ask thought provoking questions, or make suggestions that differ from the ideas of the leader and the rest of the team. Especially when there are formal and informal rules that dictate who can speak up in a public forum and what can be said.
Another risk is that political correctness, can cause persons to be rewarded for sub-optimal performance because the supervisor is uncomfortable pointing out deficiencies in performance for fear of being accused of discrimination.
Global trends are pointing toward the ineffectiveness of political correctness. Employees are tired of language that sounds like double speak, which is a form of language that is intentionally ambiguous. Employees want to be in an environment where they can trust decision-makers. They want to feel free to express their true thoughts and if decision-makers are not being receptive to displays of authenticity, labeling ideas as insubordinate or unsuitable, all employees are watching and perceiving this as the exhibition of low trust and will reciprocate.
In some organizations, suspicion levels are so high that even attempts to demonstrate authenticity are not trusted. This can become overwhelming for persons who come to work day in and day out and are constantly aware that decision-makers and other coworkers are not being honest with them. These employees crave an authentic environment so it can be exhausting navigating the mine-field caused by low self-esteem.
Here are five strategies leaders can use to shift from political correctness to a diversity conscious, inclusive environment:
- As a leader you can model trustworthy behaviours and actions. This includes saying what you mean through respectful and honest communication; and aligning your words and actions.
- It means demonstrating self-mastery so when others express divergent points of view, you can respond in a way that is constructive and honest without being offended or defensive.
- Self-mastery requires you to develop the skill of heart centered listening. While this may not seem like a solution to political correctness, it is. It is about setting a tone. A tone of curiosity that indicates you are interested in what your coworker has to say so you can create safe space that facilitates open and honest conversation by listening.
- Seek ways you can reframe differences into a positive, inclusive perspective so there is no need for political correctness. Shifting your perspective will help you shift your approach to one that is engaging instead of one that is ambiguous, tolerant, or divisive.
- Avoid spin. Persons who are good at spin use part of the truth to gain your trust. Over time your coworkers see through spin so this practice fuels suspicion and slowly they will become just as good as you at using spin / political correctness. Employees will model your behavior so it is important for you to be aware of the behaviors you are approving.
Your coworkers are tired of the façade of political correctness. They want to work in a truly inclusive environment where there are engaging conversations that can help them grow, both as individuals and as a team. They want to know you actually care, that you are not speaking to them from some carefully orchestrated, fake script.
Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.