Why Should You Ask?

What’s your story?
People love to tell their stories. However, they usually need to be asked to do so. Asking someone to share how they have acquired the knowledge and skills that help them to thrive in their work – outside of the professional and academic arenas – gives them an opportunity to tell you their story. It also gives you valuable information about a person’s transferable skills and competencies – information that may not be included on their resume. They may have learned how to manage teams successfully by helping a parent to raise their younger siblings; or they may have learned how to crunch numbers by helping at a grandparents shop. You can help people to provide this information by asking them to share their ‘distance traveled.’ It might be easier for you to ask these questions of others if you begin by recalling the distance that you have traveled. What have your experiences outside of the workplace or school taught you that helps you to thrive at work?
If only I had asked sooner!
A director of sales for a Fortune 50 company approached me and shared concerns that she had regarding an employee who had been in her department for seven years and was terrific in his capacity as an administrator. She said that his coworkers respected and trusted him and that he was highly competent, knew the business and had an incredibly positive attitude. The employee told the director that he wanted to be promoted into a sales title. He felt that he was ready for this move and had shown that he deserved it. The director confided in me that she did not think that he would be successful in sales as he had a very heavy Spanish accent. I asked her if she was aware of accent reduction classes which have become common. She had not, but explained that she was afraid that the employee might be insulted if she suggested that he take one of those classes. I asked her what kind of training the sales people were required to take and she cataloged several topics, including “Effective Communication.” I asked her if any of the other employees were insulted when she told them that they would have to take these classes in order to be promoted and she said, “Absolutely not!” They were excited about the opportunity and grateful. I explained to her that my father had a heavy Spanish accent and that I believe he would have taken an accent reduction class if one had been available to him. I recommended that she speak with the employee as they had a long term relationship. We ran through several practice conversations. Six months later she called me to tell me that the employee had taken the classes, was promoted, and in addition to being very successful with existing customers, he was expanding their client base by reaching out to Spanish speaking business owners in the territory. She said, “If only I had asked you about this sooner!” She was not thinking about numbers. She was not thinking about quotas. She was thinking about her mission – which was to sell.
Asking for and sharing ‘distance traveled’ stories contributes to the creation of an inclusive environment. Learning how an employee’s background can be an asset also encourages inclusion. An inclusive environment can be sustained if these approaches are integral elements of an organization’s culture.
Please let us know what you think about this by sharing your comments below!
~ Wendy

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