How to navigate when a participant takes up more airtime than you’d hoped
Question: When a person of color, in my opinion, is taking up too much airtime or doing something problematic, how do you redirect?
As a white person, if there are folks of color in the room and I start judging that they’re taking up too much time, I first need to ask myself, “What’s under that judgment?” And, often it’s white cultural attitudes, like: time is money, we have to get things done, and a fast pace is good.
And 2nd, I need to examine my beliefs and “shoulds,” like: People should speak quickly, they should speak easily, they should speak in short statements like I do. And I do think these “shoulds” grounded in extroversion and white culture.
So, I breathe, and ask, “Tell me more.” And, I remember that most workplaces and most workshops are not set up so that folks of color, folks who are Indigenous, folks who are multiracial or biracial have the space and the safety to speak their truth. And so, if someone is choosing courage and trusting me to hold the space and they’re sharing longer that I might have hoped, maybe 2-3 minutes, then I need to breathe, choose patience and listen deeply. Now, if it’s ten minutes, that’s a different conversation, in my opinion.
I need to realize that some, whether it’s by race or culture or work style, they may share in different ways than I do as a trained left-brained extrovert. And so, part of it is deconstructing what I believe good participation is and these white cultural beliefs. And if you want to source for that, Google Tema Okun and search for her article, “White Supremacy Culture.” It’s a wonderful, accessible, very practical article about thirteen different characteristics of white culture, including: time is money, you have to move quickly, sense of urgency. I can fall into a lot of these potholes when I’m teaching about equity and inclusion.
When a person of color is sharing, and you hear the passion, emotion, or you hear it’s a difficult situation or microaggression, actually that several moments which feels too much for you could be what helps the group begin to trust that we can speak truth here & we can engage and get honest.
I’m not asking people of color to teach whites, and, I want to create a container where folks can show up and tell stories. After a person of color might share, I might acknowledge and just say thank you for sharing, as I hear you, I’m feeling this. Using the PAIRs tools, I might share the impact, thank them, and I might even stay on race if they’re talking about race. Now, they could be talking about hierarchy, they could be talking about age, & they just happen to be a person of color. And I might say as a white person, “I’m taking away a couple of things you have me thinking about, like how I show up as a white person in these types of situations.” Say something that shows the impact of their comment.
Then, I may want to share with the group ask the group, “What was the impact from hearing their comment?” If this is the first person that has taken a few extra minutes to share something that is more personal, then you might first ask, “Who relates?” Ask them to raise their hand or give a single clap or make some noise so that the person who shared (who might be feeling vulnerable now) can realized they’re not alone. And then, maybe ask one or two people to talk about the impact of the person’s sharing.
As I design workshops, I have a plan and a general idea about how much time I think stuff takes. But, when something real happens in the room, then I often will follow that path because whatever the activity I had planned may no longer matter if we can accomplish the same outcomes: engaged dialogue, deepening authentic conversations, and more understanding of how to shift privileged &marginalized group dynamics in the workplace. And so, if I can get to that end through something real that just happened, even though they “took too much time,” that’s what I intend to do.
Now, early on in my career I’d write very detailed designs with specific times allotted to each activity. I still may do this if I’m expecting others may be leading the session through my consulting group. But mostly, I have a gut guesstimate of what things may take, and then flow with the workshop dynamics in real time.
I’m going to hold the other part of your question: if people of color exhibit problematic behaviors. I’m saying you’re doing this, but I find many whites lead with this issue before they have given me any indication, they have a deep understanding of whiteness, white privilege and racism; much less they have shown up in ways to own their racist attitudes and behaviors. Until whites do, I am skeptical as they want to talk about the unproductive behaviors of people of color.