Race Trap: Smart Strategies for Effective Racial Communication in Business and in Life

Race Trap: Smart Strategies for Effective Racial Communication in Business and in Life

by Robert Johnson, Steven Simring

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Despite tremendous strides made in racial tolerance and diversity training, today's workplaces remain minefields of misunderstanding and bad feelings. In addition to lowered morale, reduced productivity, and lost sales, unresolved racial issues incur the kinds of serious legal and financial penalties suffered by Denny's Restaurants, Texaco Oil, and dozens of other… See more details below


Despite tremendous strides made in racial tolerance and diversity training, today's workplaces remain minefields of misunderstanding and bad feelings. In addition to lowered morale, reduced productivity, and lost sales, unresolved racial issues incur the kinds of serious legal and financial penalties suffered by Denny's Restaurants, Texaco Oil, and dozens of other companies in recent years.

Written by two of the nation's leading experts in racial communication, this book is a must-read for managers who deal with a diverse workforce, or anyone interested in improving their effectiveness in multiracial settings. Rather than attempt to change readers' feelings and attitudes, this book offers proven practical strategies for managing, working with, selling to, and communicating with people of different races.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In business, it's not productive to try to alter people's racial biases, at least in the short run, declare Johnson, a black pediatrician, and Simring, a white psychiatrist, who have worked together since 1976. Nor do they believe that questions about issues like affirmative action are resolvable. The more pressing issue, in their view, is what they call racial intelligence, a capacity to negotiate racial terrain in the workplace, daily life and the bureaucratic system. They begin with a test that includes questions such as how a white professional should deal with a colleague who tells racist jokes, or how a black salesperson should deal with the fact that many white customers gravitate toward white salespeople, or whether a white salesclerk should acknowledge that his innocuous interjection "boy" might be interpreted as offensive by a black customer. Later in the book, the authors tease out the implications of possible responses. (For example, the white salesclerk should apologize if it seems like the customer has taken offense; if not, he should ignore it and concentrate on closing the sale.) The authors offer principles for better communication (e.g., don't pretend to be color-blind) and discuss strategies in the workplace and in sales. Some advice may rankle--one black salesman they quote advises young black men in his field to conceal Afrocentric names if they want to deal with whites. Still, this hardheaded book--which declares that sometimes reason must trump even justified emotion--provides much practical advice. (Nov. 1) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.54(h) x 0.89(d)

Read an Excerpt

Becoming A Smart Racial Communicator

Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.

--Elbert Hubbard

Hardly a day passes when some aspect of the race debate is not in the headlines. Whatever our business or profession and wherever we operate geographically, race is an issue for all of us.

  • If you're not white, you probably don't need to be reminded of the impact race has on your life. Chances are, many of those who affect your day-to-day existence -- teachers, cops, lawyers, doctors, employers -- have always been white. For better or worse, people often make judgments on the basis of skin color-judgments that don't always work in your favor. Which is why, when blacks wake up in the morning, they are more likely to have race on their minds than whites. Still, race is something nobody can afford to ignore.
  • If you're white, you are far more likely to come in contact with people of different racial and ethnic groups than before-both in the workplace and in everyday life.

In a corporate setting, the chances of having coworkers, supervisors, and customers who are African American, Hispanic, or Asian are almost double what they were ten years ago. The cop who pulls you over on the highway is also more likely to be black or Latino. So is the doctor who examines you at a hospital or managed-care facility.

Whatever your race or ethnicity, the way you handle interactions with people of other races will have an impact on your career, your health and well-being, and the ease with which you negotiate your day-to-day transactions in the world at large. In this book, werefer to such interactions as "diversity encounters."

Intellectuals and politicians have provided an almost endless stream of rhetoric about affirmative action, racial tensions, white racism, black racism -- not to mention playing the so-called race card. Virtually all of these commentators have a philosophical, political, legal, or social ax to grind. We won't be engaging in any of these self-serving, unresolvable arguments. They have no bearing on racial intelligence.

In our research, we have analyzed some 250 case studies about diversity encounters. We have developed an objective measurement called the Racial Intelligence Quotient (RQ), which measures an individual's level of skill in dealing with members of other racial groups.

The RQ has little, if anything, to do with morality or higher ethical concepts. For example, a person can have a high RQ, even if he or she harbors personal bias or negative attitudes. While we haven't come across any Klansmen or neo-Nazis with high RQs, we found that there was little difference between liberals and conservatives when it comes to being racially intelligent.

This book will help you raise your RQ, and while you do this, you will become more effective in negotiating the delicate, often tricky, racial terrain. As you become more racially smart, you will be better able to negotiate interactions in ways that maximize your self-interest. This process doesn't happen overnight. But fortunately, it doesn't take long to achieve a small but significant improvement in racial intelligence -- and small improvements make a big difference in what happens in five critical domains.

Five Critical Areas For Effective Racial Communication

  1. The workplace: Getting along with coworkers, colleagues, supervisors, and employees.
  2. Sales and customer service: Marketing your product to a diverse consumer base. Closing the deal.
  3. The system: Dealing with police officers, judges, doctors, teachers, bureaucrats, and others in a position to make your (or your child's) life miserable.
  4. Daily life: Receiving good service in stores, restaurants, banks, and airports.
  5. Child rearing: Helping children become more effective in maintaining good relationships with teachers, classmates, and friends of different racial groups.

While our primary focus is business and the workplace, it's important to keep in mind that the business we transact in our dealings with the system and in daily life are no less critical to our success and wellbeing. If you're racially smart at an airport or in a doctor's office, you're likely to carry those skills into the workplace, and vice versa.

This is not a book on parenting. Nevertheless, we show parents how to teach their children to navigate diversity encounters-not just because it's the warm and fuzzy or politically correct thing to do. We see racial intelligence as a critical evolutionary step, one that will continue to exert an ever greater influence on the success of these emerging citizens in the future.

Racial Intelligence, IQ, and Common Sense

Racial intelligence has little to do with a person's overall intelligence. There are men and women with IQs in the so-called genius range who are racially quite stupid. On the other hand, there are many people with modest IQs who are highly effective in negotiating diversity encounters.

No racial group scores better or worse on the RQ Test than any other. The key factors in becoming racially smarter are experience with diversity encounters, motivation, and an ability to separate well-considered objectives from emotional reactions. No other qualifications are needed.

Unlike IQ, which remains relatively consistent over time, a person's RQ is a set of cognitions that constantly changes as it is refined through experience. When you first become aware of the principles of effective racial communication, you may find yourself self-consciously applying them in diversity encounters. But in time, these skills become an automatic part of your operational style.

People with high RQs appear to have a great deal of what is generally referred to as "common sense" -- a term that's often used to describe knowledge that is self-evident. Men and women with good common sense can exercise this ability in a wide range of contexts. They are the antithesis of absentminded professors -- geniuses in one area, but bumbling fools in other aspects of life.

As we observe the way many people act, and we listen to what they say, it's clear that common sense isn't all that common. Furthermore, even people who appear to possess this quality are often lacking in racial smarts-which turns out to be a type of knowledge that is anything but self-evident. How, then, does one bridge the gap?

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