Friday, November 05, 2010

Labels and Stereotypes - Can't You Read My Mind?

As promised, here’s our brief examination of the label...

You’re too Literal

When a White person tells an African American coworker or subordinate that they are being too literal, what they really should have said was that they forgot to provide the African American with the proper and complete instructions to complete work on a project.

Yes, that’s the easiest way for an African American to get this label. I can’t tell you how many complaints I’ve heard in my lifetime from Black coworkers who were essentially told that they couldn’t think through a work request. The greatest source of Black angst about being called “too literal” is that they received the label based on someone else’s shortcomings in project management or because of someone else’s poor communication skills.

African Americans I’ve spoken to, who received this label, felt they were being provided with project information in a piecemeal fashion. Any request to hold off work until all information was received from clients or managers was shot down. Therefore, there were bound to be issues with the completed project work. As a result, unnecessary errors occurred when full information/instructions were finally provided. The parameters of the project had changed, but the White project manager or supervisor would take no responsibility for ordering the work to be done without the need-to-know information.

Unfortunately, situations like this have led some Blacks to be labeled as being too literal and have caused them to be told that they should have “anticipated” what was needed, even when “what was needed” was not a logical offshoot of what they were asked to do.

Additionally, Blacks are often told they should “read between the lines,” when the real issue is that White coworkers or supervisors should feel the obligation to be clear and specific with their work requirements and requests.

Giving someone the label, you’re too literal, is often simply about a person’s lack of accountability. So, it’s easier to say that an African American should read minds like the Great Mancini.

The issue is never about a White person’s poor planning, poor communication skills, or mismanagement of work and people. Crap rolls down the hill. When it comes to explaining to a manager or client why something didn’t get done, whoever gave you the assignment can easily say that it was the Black subordinate’s fault. The Black worker was too literal and should have known to do work that was never requested!

The next racial label and stereotype will be…

You’re Being Difficult


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mary,

Your comments are always insightful. Your post have definately made a difference in how I engage myself at work.

6:02 AM  

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