What to Say When You Can’t Stand What’s Being Said

bias thought bubble over the heads of diverse people
Lisa Hochgraf Photo
Senior Editor

2 minutes

Here’s a tool for how to call out someone’s bias—or to call someone in to have a courageous conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Ever had one of those moments where you can’t believe the statement of bias you just heard—but you feel unsure about how to respond? 

I was heartened to learn from taking the “Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging” course on Harvard ManageMentor (a benefit of CUES membership), that interrupting bias can sometimes be as simple as saying “Um” and pausing. 

Here’s an example of how this works. 

I’m more than 20 years into my career as an editor for CUES. I like to joke that my current title, “senior” editor, perfectly matches my graying hair. But imagine if I heard someone say in a meeting that it was clear that “older” employees would be less likely to embrace the change on the table?

Responding by saying “Um” and waiting offers two opportunities. First, it gives the speaker of the statement of bias the opportunity to backpedal. And it gives me, who’s likely feeling pretty vulnerable, a moment to think about what I might say or do next.

This technique can be even more powerful when used by an ally to support a colleague.

It can be challenging to be an ally—someone willing to act in support of another person to remove barriers that impede that person from being their authentic self at work. (But I remind myself that it would be much harder to personally face those same external barriers!) So, I’ve been hunting for tools to help you with what to say when you can’t stand what’s been said. 

This tool about interrupting bias is reprinted with permission from Seed the Way, an organization that provides education for justice and equality. The two-page PDF lists things to say when you need to call someone out and make them aware of the impact of what they have said or done. It also lists things to say when you want to call someone in—and have a courageous conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Hope you find it useful. And I hope in the comments you’ll let me know what other diversity, equity and inclusion tools you’d like us to add to’s DEI collection.

Lisa Hochgraf is senior editor with CUES.

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