Skip to Main Content

Speaking Up with Confidence

Speaking Up with Confidence | Women Amplified

Speaking up is critical, but also complex in today’s world, and as a leader you set the tone for your team.

In this session — a replay from the 2021 Pennsylvania Conference for Women — diversity and inclusion pragmatist Dolly Chugh will offer ways to communicate so that you can reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding, be a better colleague, and create a workplace where everyone has the confidence to speak up and the language to effectively advance equity in the workplace.

Learn how to avoid being a well-intentioned barrier to equality and speak up with confidence.


 

Dolly Chugh

Dolly ChughDolly Chugh is an award-winning professor at the New York University Stern School of Business where she teaches MBA courses in leadership and management. Her research focuses on “bounded ethicality,” which she describes as the “psychology of good people.” Her first book, The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias, has received rave praise from Adam Grant, Angela Lee Duckworth, Liz Wiseman, Billie Jean King, and many others. It has been covered on the TODAY Show, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the 10% Happier Podcast, NPR, and other media outlets. Chugh’s TED Talk was named one of the 25 Most Popular TED Talks of 2018, and currently has over 4.5 million views. Recently, she launched a free, monthly newsletter called Dear Good People which offers bite-sized, evidence-based tips on how to be the inclusive person you mean to be. Prior to becoming an academic, Chugh worked at Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Sibson and Company, Scholastic, and Time Inc. She attended Cornell University, where she majored in psychology and economics for her undergraduate degree and Harvard University for her MBA and PhD. @dollychugh

 

 

Celeste Headlee

Celeste HeadleeCeleste Headlee is a communication and human nature expert, and an award-winning journalist. She is a professional speaker, and also the author of Speaking of Race: Why Everybody Needs to Talk About Racism—and How to Do It, Do Nothing, Heard Mentality, and We Need to Talk. In her twenty-year career in public radio, she has been the executive producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio, and anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as cohost of the national morning news show The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Headlee’s TEDx talk sharing ten ways to have a better conversation has over twenty million total views to date. @CelesteHeadlee

 

 


Additional Resources:

More from Women Amplified

    • Sign up for the Women Amplified email list to receive a notification every time a new episode drops (and maybe receive a few exclusive tidbits)
    • Join us in person — or online — at the 2022 Pennsylvania, Texas, or Massachusetts Conferences for Women. We have some powerhouse speakers lined up, along with multiple networking opportunities, fun interactive exhibits, and a brand-new in-person/ online hybrid experience to offer.
    • Do you have a work/life problem? Let’s solve it! Tell us about your challenge here and you could be on an upcoming episode of “That’s A Good Question!”

 


Photo credit: iStock/SDI Productions

 

Transcript of Dolly Chugh’s Episode of Women Amplified

Celeste Headlee:

It is my absolute pleasure to be able to talk to Dolly. Dolly, I loved your book.

Dolly Chugh:

Oh my gosh.

Celeste Headlee:

And I have so many questions for you. But I want to start with the title. Because it’s so kind. You say that the book is about the person you mean to be. And that leads me to this question of, do you believe that most people, the majority of people, really do want to advocate for racial equity and justice?

Dolly Chugh:

First of all, Celeste, huge fan girl of yours, trying to be chill here, but this is very exciting. Thank you for having me. Yeah, the title, well, the way I intended it wasn’t to claim that most people do want that, but to claim that most people have some gap between their aspirational self and their current self. And that certainly, as a social scientist, we have lots of data that reveals that gap in people’s behavior, between their attitudes and their actual decisions, choices, actions. So, I intended the title to be speaking to that aspiration. And for many people, that aspiration includes equity, diversity, inclusion. I don’t try in the book to try to convince people who aren’t aspiring to that. I want those people to be convinced, but I don’t think my book will do that for them.

Celeste Headlee:

So, we’re trying to help people who do want to speak up, the kind of people that you wrote your book for, to know how to go about doing that. And from your book, it looks like there’s a bunch of incremental steps along the way, between thinking to yourself, “I want to be the kind of person who speaks up when I hear a microaggression,” or when something is unfair, or unjust, all the way to, “I have just spoken up about something that isn’t fair and unjust.” The steps that have to happen. And I wonder if you tell me how we get to at least awareness? Because it appears that people who want to do the right thing aren’t always aware when the wrong thing has occurred.

Dolly Chugh:

Right. That is a big piece of it, is the noticing.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah.

Dolly Chugh:

I think that’s actually where it all begins is strengthening our noticing muscles. Because, again, that unconscious mind is doing a lot of work that we’re not noticing in the moment, both our own behaviors as well as the behaviors of others. So, I like that as a starting point that we begin by, let’s say, for example, we’re in a meeting, let’s just really pay attention to what’s happening in the meeting, who’s being included, who’s being excluded, who’s being interrupted, how much airtime each person is getting and taking, who’s sitting where if we’re in a physical space, who’s getting credit for what they say versus being sort of dismissed? Whose emotions are being interpreted positively versus negatively? Where is it passion versus overly emotional? Where is it assertive versus aggressive? Just in the course of a simple meeting, and gosh, so many meetings are boring, this is a good way to keep our minds busy. We can keep track of these things. And right there, you’ve got a wealth of data on what’s happening in the larger system that you’re part of.

Celeste Headlee:

So let’s say that I’m a White person, I’m in a meeting. I hear something I recognize as a microaggression toward one of my colleagues of color. One thing that you talk about in the book is that what prevents people from speaking up is a lack of psychological standing. What does that mean?

Dolly Chugh:

Yes. So the research on psychological standing shows that we’re not directly affected by an issue. We, sometimes, don’t feel we’re invited, or we have the standing, the psychological standing, to engage on that issue. And so as a result, we do not. And what we actually … There’s another body of research that actually frees us up from that uncertainty of like, should I or should not, or is it my place or isn’t it? And that’s the research that says that when you’re not directly affected by an issue, and you speak up, let’s say microaggression, racist microaggression. When the person who is not directly affected, let’s say a White person, speaks up, the research says they’re actually taken more seriously than when a Black person says something in that moment. These are controlled laboratory studies where they are controlled for all the different variations that could account for that difference. And in study after study, similar patterns emerge.

Dolly Chugh:

It also shows up when you look at hiring and performance evaluations that managers, even if a Black manager hires a Black employee, they are penalized in ways that when a White manager hires a White employee or a White manager hires a Black employee, they’re not. And so, I think that this liberates us from the “should I or shouldn’t I” psychological standing, internal argument? The answer is yes, we should get involved. Not that we should step over or speak over, center ourselves in the conversation. But there’s a difference between that and just doing nothing.

Celeste Headlee:

So what can I say? I’m not a White person, but let’s imagine I’m a White person, I’m in a meeting. Someone has made a racist statement over the course of the meeting. What do I say? I’m sitting next to my colleague of color, what do I say, if anything, to the colleague of color, what do I say to the person who just said the offensive thing?

Dolly Chugh:

Yeah. So, there’s a whole variety of tools we have available to us in that moment. I mean, one is if you want to just check in with the … If you’re literally sitting next to the person, or you can easily do one of those quick under-the-table text to them. “Okay if I jump in?” Or, “I can take this one, if you’d like.” To see if, in fact, you’re in a space where you are proceeding, you’re not speaking over somebody, you are speaking in conjunction with them. Absolutely, if the Black person in that scenario has said something, that is absolutely your invitation to echo it, to amplify it.

Dolly Chugh:

If it got moved on, like it got the head nods and then we moved on, to say, “I’d like to circle back. I want us to dig a little deeper into the issue that so and so raised a few moments ago,” to sort of put … There’s a little bit of risk here and that shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing. That’s a good thing. That’s the moment where the risk you’re spending isn’t as costly to you in this scenario that you described as it is to the Black colleague next to you.

Dolly Chugh:

So what can I say? It really does depend on the scenario, but it can be if you want to use it as a moment for education, it might be, “Hey, I want to share something I learned recently. I haven’t heard it discussed in our meetings before. Let me take a minute on that.” Or it can be more challenging. It might not be education. It might be, “Wow, ouch. This feels like a 1950s firm. Is that who we are? I thought we were a progressive firm.” Or it might be, “You know what, I think I can go look at some data on this. Can I get a commitment that next week when we meet, it’ll be on the agenda to look at the data? I think the data could inform this decision.” So it really does depend on the situation. But you can use all the same skills you use to influence people about everything else we influence people about and deploy them in this situation as well.

Celeste Headlee:

So, do these same sorts of tactics and does this advice also apply if what’s been said is not a racially offensive comment, but something against gender, a sexist comment?

Dolly Chugh:

Yeah, I think so. I think the difference between racism and sexism often lies in this version of sexism called benevolent sexism, where it sits in all sorts of positive descriptions and positive stereotypes. So sometimes you’ll get a different kind of pushback, which is like “No, I think women are wonderful. If you hand it to me, women would run the world.” You get a lot of that kind of pushback, which is still creating problems because it’s creating this very narrow pedestal upon which we put woman, where women were … they have to be communal, and they have to be smiley, and they have to be cooperative. In other words, they have to fit a gender stereotype rather than be a full range of possibilities that human beings can be. So, the difference might lie in the kind of pushback that arrives. But absolutely, all the same tactics can be useful.

Dolly Chugh:

By the way, the easiest tactic, when you can’t think of anything to say or do, when you just can’t figure out the words in the heat of the moment, is to use the one-word response that will stop the conversation. Those sound like “Wow,” or “Ouch,” or “Geez.” Like, they clearly send a signal to the room that there’s something that needs to be dealt with, without you having to muster up the words. And by puncturing-

Celeste Headlee:

Immediately. I tell people to say, “Wait, what?” “Wait, what?”

Dolly Chugh:

Oh, the “Wait, what?” That’s good. I’m going to add that. I like that.

Celeste Headlee:

So just to put a pause on it. But all of this … Let’s take the same scenario from a different perspective. Let’s imagine now that I’m the manager in this room or in this meeting.

Dolly Chugh:

Yeah.

Celeste Headlee:

And I want people to speak up. I want people to say something and not let these comments go. But that requires people to feel some psychological safety, which is something you talk about. How do I create that kind of environment where people feel empowered or confident enough to push back on those kinds of microaggressions?

Dolly Chugh:

Yeah. Well, I mean, first and foremost, you say, “That’s what you want. But don’t expect that because you say it that you’re going to get it.” In fact, that’s barely sufficient to get it going. What you do is you model it. What that looks like is, you confess things you don’t know, that looks like you admit that you made a mistake, that “I realized now that the way we did hiring in the past was excluding a lot of great talent. And I didn’t realize. I really was unaware of the way my biases were being affected by things like people’s address, or someone’s name, or where they went to college. I know more now than I did before.” You want to avoid being the first to express a point of view. If you’re trying to create debate within a discussion, if you express your point of view as the senior leader, you are likely to get other people to agree with you.

Celeste Headlee:

I see.

Dolly Chugh:

So you want to be really careful about when you express a point of view. And you reward people who take risks. So psychological safety, the definition of psychological safety is a shared belief in a team, that it’s safe for interpersonal risk-taking, interpersonal. It’s like none of us want to be the one that’s shamed by the group or thought less of. So when people take that risk by admitting something, or saying that they don’t know something, or apologizing publicly, you reward that in all the ways. Formally and informally, we reward things.

Celeste Headlee:

So let me take the … Let’s stay with the same scenario for one more question.

Dolly Chugh:

Okay.

Celeste Headlee:

And let’s imagine I’m now the person who made the offensive comment. And I have, look, I’m a Black Jewish person, I make mistakes all the time.

Dolly Chugh:

Yeah.

Celeste Headlee:

So someone has just called me out on saying something that is outdated or offensive. How do I … I’m immediately going to feel defensive.

Dolly Chugh:

Yeah, me too. Me too.

Celeste Headlee:

How do I then handle that feedback?

Dolly Chugh:

Yeah. Well, first of all, I feel you on that. I stand up in front of students on Zoom or in physical rooms all the time, and they are so much more advanced than me on a lot of these issues. So I’m often called out for things. So I have a lot of experience, the way you’re describing with not knowing … of getting it wrong, quite frankly. So that red zone defensive response is really natural. You should expect it in yourself. And when it happens, what I like to do is like, oh, there’s my little inner good person jumping to my defense, wanting to say “She’s a good person, she really is. I am.” That little good person, we just want to say, “Hey, it’s okay.”

Dolly Chugh:

I have this other identity, which is being goodish, which I talked about in my book, is being a person who has a growth mindset, who’s always getting better, who’s improving, who’s open to new ideas. And the person I mean to be is that person, that one who’s better now than a year ago, and two years ago, and five years ago. Not the really brittle, “I am a good person, how dare you.” So, watch your little inner good person waving their arms. Say, “It’s all right, it’s all right. I got this.” And then switch into the “Wow, I didn’t know that.” Or, “Oh my gosh, I made a terrible mistake.” Or, “I am sorry for the harm I did.” And then move into learning mode.

Celeste Headlee:

Being part of growth mindset, according to your book, also means I can’t start thinking of myself as being not racist.

Dolly Chugh:

Right.

Celeste Headlee:

That I can’t choose as my identity, “I’m anti-racist.” Why not?

Dolly Chugh:

Well, you can choose as your identity that you’re continually working towards being anti-racist or-

Celeste Headlee:

And that’s different than saying, “I’m not racist.”

Dolly Chugh:

I’m not … Right. There’s just not a lot of value in the noun. The noun plants you in place, rather than gives you all this room to grow. We want to give ourselves room to grow. And so what we’re going for … I use in the book this distinction between being a believer and a builder. A believer, you’re sort of like putting the stakes in the ground, “I believe this,” but you’re not doing that active work of building the skills, building the communities, building the courage, building the vocabulary, building the knowledge to actually continually do the work.

Dolly Chugh:

So I’m after something more active. It’s not just that you believe it, it’s that you’re a builder who’s actively doing it. So, being an anti-racist is great, but that feels more like we’re sort of sitting in one place. The world’s changing every day. Being an anti-racist in 2020 versus 2021 versus 2022, they’re going to be different things. So we got to keep up.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah, we can look back through history and see some of the anti-racist activists, and not any longer agree with some of the positions that we took. It’s an evolution.

Dolly Chugh:

That’s really interesting, yeah.

Celeste Headlee:

I wonder what we might do … I want to give you some examples of common things people tell you to excuse racist behavior.

Dolly Chugh:

Okay.

Celeste Headlee:

And how we might respond to them. So, for example, I go to a manager or an executive and I say this particular policy disadvantages people of color. And that person responds by saying, “Oh, no, no, no, we haven’t had a single complaint about that. In fact, my Black team member said he likes that.”

Dolly Chugh:

Right, right. So in moments like that, I would love, if you have the luxury of doing it, see if you can talk to people who’ve left the company, and don’t accept that “Well, we do exit interviews,” or “They’re relocated.” I mean, who could turn down that position that came up? There’s still a wealth of data there to be collected, and I would really encourage the post-exit exit interview, whether it’s formal or informal, to get a clearer idea. Right now, in a lot of schools, K through 12, and universities, there are these Instagram accounts that have come up like [email protected] and then fill in the name of the school.

Dolly Chugh:

And what’s shown up on a lot of those Instagram accounts is alumni accounts of things they experienced within the school, that maybe they’re still very loyal alumni, maybe they do love the school and say good things, maybe they don’t. But what’s really interesting is what’s surfacing in these accounts, many of the people within the institution weren’t aware that this was happening. And so, we don’t want to simply trust because the one Black team member said everything’s fine, or because in the exit interviews people said, “Oh, everything was fine.” We don’t want to assume that means we have full information. So if I had the luxury in an instance like that, I’d go collect more data.

Celeste Headlee:

What about, and we hear this all the time, when the issue is a sexist policy or comment? He was just joking. Don’t be so sensitive.

Dolly Chugh:

Yeah. I like to counter that with humor. If you can muster up in the moment, if humor is something that’s in your toolkit to begin with, if you’re already able to come up with a good witty remark, and in that moment, if you can find your humor, I really think it’s a great chance to just, what’s the right word, like destabilize that comeback. And it’s hard without the context for me to come up with something funny to say, but I do find in those moments, when someone’s “Oh, are you kidding,” they’re just, “Why are you being sensitive about? They’re just kidding.” And to sort of come up and be like, “Dude, you can kid me about my gray hairs, but really, you’re going to kid me about this? That’s not funny.” Like, come back at them to sort of weaponize a little bit what they’re claiming is a sense of humor.

Celeste Headlee:

How do you know if it’s time to leave? How do you know when a workplace or a manager or a co-worker can’t be changed or persuaded or worked around and it’s time to go?

Dolly Chugh:

Yeah. That’s a tough call. And let’s step back from that and say that it isn’t even your job to change them, right? Like that’s to begin with. It may be in your best interest to change them, but that doesn’t mean it’s your job to change them. And it may cost you more than you feel you have to give to put in all that labor, and take the risks that involves. But let’s say you are motivated to do that, or you feel like you have no choice but you have to do that. The time to move on … I teach MBA students negotiations courses, and I’m always telling my students, you should always have an up-to-date resume, always. It doesn’t matter how good the economy is, how bad the economy is, how much you love your job, how much you love your boss, you should always have your resume, your LinkedIn profile ready to go. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to go, but it gives you the … that I could. I could.

Celeste Headlee:

You have an escape hatch.

Dolly Chugh:

I have an escape hatch. And so, when do you actually make the move? Well, there’s nothing wrong with testing the waters. I don’t see … I think any manager who thinks their employees are not testing the waters, that tells me the manager hasn’t hired the best people out there.

Celeste Headlee:

So I want to get as many practical tips from you as possible on how people can actually go about doing this and speaking up. But I have to come back to this question of what prevents us from speaking up?

Dolly Chugh:

Yeah.

Celeste Headlee:

Because it’s one that you address so many times. And we have had, for a number of years now, a revolutionary tool to detect implicit bias in all of us, right? And we now have a test from Harvard, a little modern, that … I don’t want to say it tricks us but we’re not self-reporting whether we’re racist or not. Because if somebody says, “Are you racist,” most of us are going to say, “No.”

Dolly Chugh:

Right.

Celeste Headlee:

What difference do you think that makes? I mean, why is it so difficult for us to be aware of our own biases?

Dolly Chugh:

Yeah. It comes back to that 11 million and 40, that we overestimate how much insight we have into the mental processes of our own minds. And so, in doing that, we are surprised when something’s like, “Wait, I didn’t realize I was associating Black people and violence.” Like that wasn’t a conscious association I was making. I’m surprised to learn that 80% of White Americans are making that association on the test that you just described, which basically makes me respond to things so fast, I can’t really control my responses, I don’t have time to “think” on the Implicit Association Test. So, because we overestimate what we think, how much visibility we have into our minds, we are surprised when something gets revealed that that wasn’t visible to us before.

Dolly Chugh:

That said, once it’s revealed to us, a lot of times, you start to notice things. You’re like, I do notice that I have a bit of reaction when I’m walking down the street, and there’s a Black person coming my way versus a White person my way. Again, this is the noticing. Like building our noticing skills, being sort of scientific mind about these things, like what data can I collect about myself? Or who do I give the benefit of the doubt to? When I see a resume with a gap on it, how do I think about that gap based off of whose resume it is? Like really applying our natural curiosity about human behavior to our own behavior.

Celeste Headlee:

Do you ever recommend that someone call someone else racist? Just say, “You’re racist”?

Dolly Chugh:

Right. It depends what your goal is. So, White nationalists are quite convinced they’re not racist.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah, David Duke, former leader of the KKK says he is not racist.

Dolly Chugh:

He’s not a racist. So, if your intention in calling someone a racist is that you want them to see themselves as a racist, I don’t think it’ll be a very successful tactic. If your intention is you want others to see what’s happening as racism, it may be effective in that. If your intention is that you want to turn up the heat in that moment, because you feel like that will get the attention you need on this issue, that may be the right tactic. If you need to get it off your chest, if you just need to speak your truth in that moment, that may be the right tactic. But if you’re trying to convince someone that they are racist, I don’t think we have a lot of evidence that that works.

Celeste Headlee:

So, what can I do to build up my confidence? So that going forward, I feel the safety that I need to speak up, that I feel empowered to speak up, or to take the risk, as you’re talking about?

Dolly Chugh:

Yeah. Well, I’ve been using what’s called the 10% more rule. I mean, this is something I came up with last summer, in the weeks after the murder of George Floyd, when we saw so much energy and activation. And I, like many people, grew very worried that this energy and activation was just going to fade away because people were going to get overwhelmed and not be able to sustain it. So, I started talking about the 10% more rule as speaking to where you are in your awareness. So if you are as many people were last summer, very new to these issues, like this is … Maybe in the past, you thought describing yourself as colorblind was a positive thing. And now you’ve just recently learned that there’s pushback on that. That that’s actually denying people’s identity and pretending there’s something wrong with being Black or Brown or another identity. And so you’re just grappling with that, you’re new.

Dolly Chugh:

Then the 10% more rule says try to be 10% more aware. Or I’ve been calling it mortified. Because in these moments, when you’re new to issues, I find myself being like, “I can’t believe I didn’t know that,” or “I can’t believe I never noticed that,” or “I’m mortified at what I’m seeing in myself,” or I’m mortified at what I’m seeing around me or in people I love. But I’m new to this issue, so we just want you to not to tune out. We want you to stay with it. Just keep learning and listening. So, 10% feels like it’s a challenging but attainable goal. According to goal setting researchers, we want challenging but attainable goals. 10% more attention than I was getting before. 10% more mortified.

Dolly Chugh:

If this is something I’ve been thinking about before, it’s like I’ve hashtagged, I’ve volunteered, I’ve donated, maybe I’ve protested, but it’s not something I think about on a daily basis. Then 10% more means 10% more terrified. And by terrified, I mean what you said earlier about taking some risks. Like, asking that question, or challenging the group, or not accepting that invitation. You’re putting some skin in the game? And how do I feel confident, how do I feel comfortable? You know what, you might not. But are you willing to feel 10% less comfortable? Are you willing to feel 10% less confident? 10% more terrified.

Dolly Chugh:

And then, if you’re someone who’s engaged in these issues every day, maybe it’s because of the identities you hold, you have no choice. Maybe it’s because it’s something you’ve been deeply invested in for a long time. And you’re probably exhausted. You’re probably engaging in this in one way or another every day. 10% more, and I put this in air quotes, “satisfied.” Meaning, not satisfied that there’s no more work to do, but satisfied that you can breathe, you played the whole game, you played every minute. You can come out for a couple minutes and let other people play and then come back in when you’re ready.

Dolly Chugh:

And so, I think for people trying to gain confidence, trying to gain courage, trying to gain comfort, it depends on where you are. If you’re new, 10% more mortified. Keep learning. If you’ve been in there but on the sidelines, 10% more terrified. You’ve done some good learning. Now let’s go apply it. Spend a little of that learning. And if you’ve been in there the whole time, you might need a rest, 10% more satisfied.

Celeste Headlee:

That’s really good advice. Dolly, thank you so much.





FINAL CALL for tickets!

Get help navigating your personal and professional life from the nation's largest network of conferences for women in the workplace

No thanks, I don't want to learn
31600