One word can help when stereotypes surface in conversation

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By Joan Martin

Biases and stereotypes are as common here as anywhere else.
It’s challenging to know how to speak up without shaming the person who makes comments that are demeaning to groups of other people. After all, you don’t want to treat that person in an unfavorable way either.  
I recently attended a seminar on effectively communicating respect and inclusion in today’s diverse business environment.
Leslie Aguilar is the author of the insightful book “Ouch! That Stereotype Hurts.” I especially benefited from learning about what to do when things go wrong.
Who hasn’t said something that they later wished they hadn’t said or didn’t explain in a way that was clearly understandable to the listener.
The following are some ideas on how you can speak up about your beliefs on respect toward others without speaking ill of anyone else.
Many people remain silent because they don’t know what to say even though they feel uncomfortable. They may be embarrassed but they also fear negative reactions if they do speak up.
It could be that they heard an embarrassing story/joke or a derogatory comment based on racial/cultural characteristics.
You don’t want to be socially isolated just because you don’t want to join in those types of conversations. You may feel encouraged to speak up if you assume that the other person is a decent person who didn’t intend to offensive.
Just one person speaking up can inspire others to do the same – to be more respectful.  
Here are six ways that you can speak up without offending.
Assume good intent on the part of the speaker and then explain briefly how the comment or story impacts you.  “I know you mean well, but it hurts when you say . . .”
Patiently ask a question about what the person said.  “What do you mean?” “What was that you said?”
Your tone of voice is important. The speaker may not realize what they have said. There’s also the possibility that you missed the word “no” or “not” which completely changes the meaning of what was said.
Interrupt and redirect the conversation, not the person.  “Let’s not go there.” Don’t stay silent which shows agreement with the speaker. Quietly leave the conversation.  
Broaden the statement to a universal behavior. “I don’t think it’s a _____ thing, it applies to everyone.”
Make it an individual statement, instead of an entire group.  “Are you speaking of someone in particular?”  Someone may have said, “I think all _______ are just ______.”
Your response may help the speaker see that really they just know of one example of this behavior, or even if it’s two examples, it certainly isn’t everyone.
Say “Ouch.” Just this one four letter word can help turn conversations around.
“Ouch” is an acceptable word that shows that someone’s comment has hurt. Usually the word “Ouch” doesn’t offend and it doesn’t label the speaker. It merely gives a brief response that something was said that was hurtful. You don’t even have to explain why you said “Ouch” unless the speaker provides an opening for it.  
Consider how you can be a positive example to promote respect among co-workers, neighbors, and your family members.
You could set the example for someone who feels powerless to speak up or is just too stunned to say anything.

Joan Martin is a family and consumer science agent at the Anderson County Extension.