Why “assume good intent” backfires

“Assume good intent.” If this is in a code of conduct or a list of company values, that organization is in for a lot of trouble soon! That’s what I’ve learned through experience as a code of conduct and DEI consultant.

TL;DR: Telling people to “assume good intent” focuses on intentions rather than effects, helps bad actors waste other people’s time, and creates more pointless arguments. “Assume good intent” even makes diversity and inclusion worse instead of better! Keep reading to learn why.

People with good intent

First, let’s talk about “assume good intent” when everyone involved DOES have good intent.

Imagine a person with good intentions who does something that turns out to be harmful. Another person tells them that their action had a bad effect. What happens next?

In an ideal world, the person who accidentally harmed people would apologize, promise to do better, and make amends. But in the real world, they often say, “But I mean well, and you are breaking the rule about assuming good intent!”

What is happening here? People often think others are breaking the rule of “assume good intent” by focusing on the harmful results instead of their intent. (Do people feel the same way when they are on the receiving end of unintentional harm? Usually not, in my experience!)

The end result is that “assume good intent” makes it harder to point out when people are unintentionally harming others and fix the problem, even when everyone has good intentions.

People with bad intent

Now let’s talk about when someone actually does have bad intent!

Imagine a person with bad intent in your organization who hears about the new rule of “assume good intent.” Occasionally, they decide that they don’t want to be in an organization full of people assuming good intent and will leave.

But if they don’t want to leave, they can take advantage of the new rule. If they do something harmful on purpose and another person points it out, all they have to do is say, “Oh, but I meant well.”

Then they do another harmful thing. “Oopsie, I thought you would like that!” They do it again, and again. Eventually someone says, “Hey, I think this person has bad intentions!” Cue an argument over “assume good intent.”

Which person is breaking the rules? Not the person with bad intent! And since intent is something that is inside someone’s head, it is extremely hard to prove that someone meant to do harm. This causes useless strife and wasted energy.

Suspicious people

Finally, let’s talk about the situation most people have in mind when they say “assume good intent”: Someone with good intent who wrongly assumes other people have bad intent so often that it harms productivity.

Imagine a suspicious person learning about the new rule that everyone must “assume good intent.” What’s the most likely reaction, deciding they will start trusting other people? Or wrongly assuming other people are breaking the new rule?

Assume good intent harms DEI

Finally, why does “assume good intent” harm diversity and inclusion? Marginalized people are the people most likely to be harmed—and the least likely to be believed when they complain about being harmed. “Assume good intent” puts an extra barrier in the way.

If you want a better code of conduct or set of company values, Frame Shift Consulting can help. Read our free book on codes of conduct or learn more about our DEI consulting and training.

Featured image: CC BY-SA 3.0 Christian Kadluba https://flic.kr/p/P1cEm, edited by FSC

Normal is not coming back

This isn’t sustainable.

Many of us are stumbling through our work days, spacing meetings and missing deadlines. You might be thinking, “I can keep going for a few more months, until things get back to normal.”

It’s time to accept it: “Normal” is not coming back.

What would we do differently if we accepted this new reality? Here are some ideas for tech company employees and other salaried knowledge workers.

Announce company-wide stress leave after traumatic events so people can cope with the event.  Most of us are just pretending to work after these events anyway, so why not make it official? Make a plan so that everyone can take their stress leave within a week of the event.

If you can, set up an email autoresponder explaining that you are taking time to process and recover from the latest event. If you are not directly affected, consider including what actions you are taking in solidarity with those most affected.

Switch to a 32-hour, four-day work week and enjoy “increases in productivity, higher talent attraction and retention, deeper customer engagement, and improved employee health.”

Cancel meetings at the slightest excuse. No agenda? Cancel it. Too few things on the agenda? Cancel it. Can this be an email? Cancel it.

Reduce meetings. Tie meeting time reduction into performance evaluations. Set goals for meeting time and measure progress. Reduce the number of people attending each meeting. Reduce meeting length.

Re-evaluate projects and processes. What are you doing solely out of tradition? What is taking up the most resources for the least return? What is throwing good money after bad? Get rid of it.

Talk to trusted coworkers about the struggles you are all facing. Find common ground and come up with ways to improve your working conditions.

In your personal life, look for ways to build mutual aid networks with friends, loved ones, and neighbors. How can you prepare to support each other through ever increasing disturbances?

Can you take turns cooking, doing childcare, taking each other to medical appointments? If one of you is unable to work for a week or month, could your mutual aid group keep them fed and housed and safe?

The old normal is never coming back, and the new normal will keep getting worse for quite some time. Now is the time to plan how to support each other through it.

Religious Beliefs and the Paradox of Tolerance

Someone tells you, “My religious beliefs say that homosexuality and abortion are wrong. When you tell me I can’t express those beliefs in this organization, you are excluding me on the basis of my religion.”

What do you do?

I can’t give you legal or HR advice, but I can give you an ethical solution to this problem: The Paradox of Tolerance.

The Paradox of Tolerance says that we should tolerate someone’s beliefs—up to the point that they take away rights from other people.

“Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

What does this mean if you want to be inclusive of people of all genders and sexualities, as well as differing religious beliefs?

Someone may believe that they, personally, should not be homosexual. That can be tolerated.

But if someone starts telling other people that they should not be homosexual, that cannot be tolerated because it removes other people’s rights to express their sexual identity.

Or, someone may believe that they, personally, should not have an abortion. That can be tolerated.

But if someone starts telling other people that they should not get abortions, that cannot be tolerated because it removes other people’s rights to control their own bodies.

Ethically speaking, tolerance for beliefs—whether religious, political, or ethical—ends when those beliefs take away rights from someone other than the believer.

This is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact your legal counsel.

Featured image CC BY-SA May S. Young, edited by FSC

Ally Skills Workshop Train-the-trainers April 26-27

Do you want to teach people how to use their power and influence to support people of color, women of all races, LGBTQ+ folks, and members of other marginalized groups? Then the Ally Skills Workshop Train-the-trainers is for you! In this class, you will learn to lead (or co-lead) the Ally Skills Workshop, which teaches people ally skills – tips and techniques for using their advantages to fight inequality and oppression with simple, everyday actions. All of the materials for the Ally Skills Workshop are reusable, modifiable, and redistributable for no additional fee.

Register here

The session was fun, welcoming, and intuitive. The experience of the trainer and depth of information provided in the materials gave me confidence that I could, with practice, also offer this training. — Amy Sawyer

This training is online using the free Zoom.us video conferencing software. To attend, you must either have participated in an Ally Skills Workshop, or watched the first hour of the Ally Skills Workshop video.

This training takes place across two days for four hours a day. You must attend both days. The dates are:

April 26 10:00AM – 2:00PM PST (convert to your time)
April 27 10:00AM – 2:00PM PST (convert to your time)

Register here

If these dates do not work for you, please add your name and information to the train-the-trainers expression of interest list.

[The train-the-trainers] was intimate and hands-on. I got to practice the skills I’d need to teach while benefitting from Valerie’s and others’ experience with presenting. I also made connections that I hope may mature into opportunities for collaboration in the future. — Dr. Sheila Addison, professional ally skills trainer

More about the Ally Skills Workshop

The Ally Skills Workshop is an intensive 3 hour-long discussion oriented workshop. The workshop leader (or co-leaders) begin with a 30 minute introduction that teaches people the basics about ally skills and how to have inclusive, respectful, productive discussions. Then the participants split up into groups of 4-6 people to discuss specific real-world scenarios in which an ally could take action. After a 5-8 minute group discussion, each group reports out what they discussed and what questions they have. The leader guides this discussion, answers questions, and suggests more ideas.

Facilitating this workshop is easiest for people comfortable with speaking extemporaneously in public, feeling and expressing compassion for people with different experiences than their own, and kindly but firmly disagreeing with people in front of others. Having significant experience as a member of a marginalized group is recommended but not required, especially if you are co-facilitating with another person who does have this experience. You can learn more about the workshop here, including the workshop slides and the full facilitator’s guide.

Image: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Ade Bradshaw on Flickr, composition by Frame Shift Consulting. Commercial use by permission.

Next Ally Skills Workshop Train-the-trainers January 13 & 14

Do you want to teach people how to use their power and influence to support people of color, women of all races, LGBTQ+ folks, and members of other marginalized groups? Then the Ally Skills Workshop Train-the-trainers is for you! In this class, you will learn to lead (or co-lead) the Ally Skills Workshop, which teaches people ally skills – tips and techniques for using their advantages to fight inequality and oppression with simple, everyday actions. All of the materials for the Ally Skills Workshop are reusable, modifiable, and redistributable for no additional fee.

Register here for the January 13 & 14 train-the-trainers

The session was fun, welcoming, and intuitive. The experience of the trainer and depth of information provided in the materials gave me confidence that I could, with practice, also offer this training. — Amy Sawyer

This training is online using the free Zoom.us video conferencing software.

Prerequisite: You must either have participated in an Ally Skills Workshop, or watched the first hour of the Ally Skills Workshop video.

This training takes place across two days for four hours a day. You must attend both days. The dates are:

January 13 1:00PM – 5:00PM PST (click here to convert to your time)

January 14 1:00PM – 5:00PM PST (click here to convert to your time)

Register here for the January 13 & 14 train-the-trainers

If these dates do not work for you, please add your name and information to the train-the-trainers expression of interest list.

More about the Ally Skills Workshop

The Ally Skills Workshop is an intensive 3 hour-long discussion oriented workshop. The workshop leader (or co-leaders) begin with a 30 minute introduction that teaches people the basics about ally skills and how to have inclusive, respectful, productive discussions. Then the participants split up into groups of 4-6 people to discuss specific real-world scenarios in which an ally could take action. After a 5-8 minute group discussion, each group reports out what they discussed and what questions they have. The leader guides this discussion, answers questions, and suggests more ideas.

Facilitating this workshop is easiest for people comfortable with speaking extemporaneously in public, feeling and expressing compassion for people with different experiences than their own, and kindly but firmly disagreeing with people in front of others. Having significant experience as a member of a marginalized group is recommended but not required, especially if you are co-facilitating with another person who does have this experience. You can learn more about the workshop here, including the workshop slides and the full facilitator’s guide.

[The train-the-trainers] was intimate and hands-on. I got to practice the skills I’d need to teach while benefitting from Valerie’s and others’ experience with presenting. I also made connections that I hope may mature into opportunities for collaboration in the future. — Dr. Sheila Addison

Image: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Ade Bradshaw on Flickr, composition by Frame Shift Consulting. Commercial use by permission.

Ally Skills Workshop June 26

Want to take concrete action to fight injustice, but not sure what to do? In response to popular demand, we are offering an online Ally Skills Workshop open to the general public. Register here:

Friday June 26, 11am – 2pm Pacific Daylight Time

In this workshop, you will learn how to recognize when you have the most power and influence—when you can best act as an ally—and how to take effective action to make your workplace and community better. We will practice responding to and preventing racism, sexism, transphobia, and other kinds of oppression. While the principles in this workshop can be used in any context and everyone is welcome, this particular workshop will be tailored towards salaried tech workers.

Facilitators

Two smiling people

Co-facilitators Valerie Aurora and Kendall Howse bring a combined experience of more than two decades in the tech industry and more than a decade of facilitating in the area of diversity and inclusion. Valerie has taught ally skills to tech workers for more than 8 years, co-founded a non-profit supporting women in open tech/culture, and worked as a software engineer for Intel, IBM, and Red Hat. Kendall is a senior designer at Red Hat, where he co-leads the Black employee resource group, and was a founding member of the Diversity Council at CoreOS.

To learn more about booking the workshop at your organization, email us at contact@frameshiftconsulting.com.

Learn ally skills on Twitter

Frame Shift amplifies marginalized voices and shares resources about acting as an ally on our low-traffic Twitter account, @FrameShiftLLC. Some recent posts:

Featured image credit and license: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Ade Bradshaw on Flickr, composition by Frame Shift Consulting. Commercial use by permission.

Tips for safer Zoom meetings

As many classes and social activities are shifting to online video, harassers are “Zoom-bombing” video calls with pornography and other obnoxious disruptions. Here is a short guide to making your Zoom meetings safer.

Before the meeting, the host (the person creating the meeting) should change these Zoom settings (click here to change):

  1. Turn on “Waiting room” feature. (Update: will be on by default starting April 5, 2020.)
  2. Turn off “Allow removed participants to rejoin”, “Allow private chat”, “File transfer”, “Annotation”, “Whiteboard” features.
  3. Set “Screen sharing” to “Host only”.

When scheduling a meeting, the host should:

  1. Create a meeting in Zoom with a random ID and a password (do not use Personal Meeting ID). (Update: meeting password will be on by default starting April 5, 2020.)
  2. Recommended: Do not share the Zoom meeting link publicly, instead make people register with an email address (e.g. using Eventbrite) and email them the Zoom link and password.

During the meeting:

  1. Host assigns “Co-host” status to a trusted person.
  2. The Co-host admits people from the waiting room, removes harassers, and does not admit suspicious people who try to join. (They also mute people who forget to mute themselves after speaking.)
  3. Host transfers host status to people who need to share their screen.
  4. Optional: Lock the meeting after 5 minutes.

If you do all these things, you will have a Zoom meeting with a defensible boundary that you can eject people from if they behave badly. It’s the virtual equivalent of a well-run conference with registration, name tags, physical security, and code of conduct enforcement.

Online training

If you find these tips useful, you may also be interested in our online training, Teaching Inclusive and Engaging Online Classes. We also teach the Ally Skills Workshop online, which helps people learn how to use their power and influence to make their workplace better.

Links

Change Zoom settings: https://zoom.us/profile/setting

Co-host information: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362603-Host-and-Co-Host-Controls-in-a-Meeting

Waiting room, remove participants, lock meeting: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/115005759423-Managing-participants-in-a-meeting

Header image CC BY Lisa ZinsCC BY-SA Bill Abbottmarneejill, Frame Shift Consulting LLC

Teaching inclusive and engaging online classes

Want to teach online classes that students look forward to? Wondering how to translate your in-person teaching skills to online teaching skills? Join professional online teacher Valerie Aurora as she shares how she keeps students engaged and learning in an inclusive and welcoming environment. Register for this free class on the following dates:

Tuesday April 7 at 9am – 11am Pacific Daylight Time

Friday April 10 at 9am – 11am Pacific Daylight Time

Wednesday April 22 at 3pm – 5pm Pacific Daylight Time

Here’s what one student said about Valerie’s Ally Skills Workshop:

Loved the format, it was super interactive and didn’t feel like a drag, 3 hours just flew by.”

Topics in this class will include:

  • Best practices for diversity, equity, and inclusion in online meetings
  • Building in student participation from the beginning
  • Adapting body language to online presentation
  • Using breakout rooms for group discussion
  • Lighting, background, and microphone set up
  • Using anonymous surveys to improve your class
  • Technical tips for online meeting software

This class will feature ample Q & A time throughout. We also encourage participants to share their own tips for teaching online with the rest of the class.

About the instructor

Valerie Aurora is founder and lead trainer at Frame Shift Consulting, specializing in teaching ally skills to tech companies. She has 8 years of professional training experience, 3 years of online training experiences, and regularly teaches classes from 1 to 6 hours long both online and in person.

Header image CC BY Lisa Zins, CC BY-SA Bill Abbott, marneejill, Frame Shift Consulting LLC

Ally Skills Workshop Train-the-trainers April 16 & 17

Do you want to teach people how to use their power and influence to support people of color, women of all races, LGBTQ+ folks, and members of other marginalized groups? Then the Ally Skills Workshop Train-the-trainers is for you! In this six hour class, you will learn to lead (or co-lead) the Ally Skills Workshop, which teaches people ally skills – tips and techniques for using their advantages to fight inequality and oppression with simple, everyday actions. All of the materials for the Ally Skills Workshop are reusable, modifiable, and redistributable for no additional fee.

Register here for the April 16 & 17 train-the-trainers

The session was fun, welcoming, and intuitive. The experience of the trainer and depth of information provided in the materials gave me confidence that I could, with practice, also offer this training. — Amy Sawyer

This training is online using the free Zoom.us video conferencing software.

Prerequisite: You must either have participated in an Ally Skills Workshop, or watched the first hour of the Ally Skills Workshop video.

This training takes place across two days for three hours a day. You must attend both days. The dates are:

April 16 10:00AM – 1:00PM PDT (click here to convert to your time)

April 17 10:00AM – 1:00PM PDT (click here to convert to your time)

Register here for the April 16 & 17 train-the-trainers

If these dates do not work for you, please add your name and information to the train-the-trainers expression of interest list.

More about the Ally Skills Workshop

The Ally Skills Workshop is an intensive 3 hour-long discussion oriented workshop. The workshop leader (or co-leaders) begin with a 30 minute introduction that teaches people the basics about ally skills and how to have inclusive, respectful, productive discussions. Then the participants split up into groups of 4-6 people to discuss specific real-world scenarios in which an ally could take action. After a 5-8 minute group discussion, each group reports out what they discussed and what questions they have. The leader guides this discussion, answers questions, and suggests more ideas.

Facilitating this workshop is easiest for people comfortable with speaking extemporaneously in public, feeling and expressing compassion for people with different experiences than their own, and kindly but firmly disagreeing with people in front of others. Having significant experience as a member of a marginalized group is recommended but not required, especially if you are co-facilitating with another person who does have this experience. You can learn more about the workshop here, including the workshop slides and the full facilitator’s guide.

[The train-the-trainers] was intimate and hands-on. I got to practice the skills I’d need to teach while benefitting from Valerie’s and others’ experience with presenting. I also made connections that I hope may mature into opportunities for collaboration in the future. — Dr. Sheila Addison

A collage of people's faces of many different ages, genders, and races, painted on walls in rainbow colors.
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Ade Bradshaw on Flickr, composition by Frame Shift Consulting. Commercial use by permission.

New advice column: Dear Ally Skills Teacher

rainbow_arrowDo you have questions about ally skills—how to use your power and privilege to help those with less—but don’t know who to ask? Now you can ask a professional ally skills teacher!

Dear Ally Skills Teacher is a new advice column answering your questions about how to act as an ally in your workplace and community. The column is written by Valerie Aurora, the leading ally skills teacher in the tech industry. She has taught ally skills to more than 2500 people around the world through the Ally Skills Workshop, and made guest appearances on the Dear Prudence podcast and the Captain Awkward blog. Valerie also draws on her ten years of experience working as a software engineer to answer questions specific to the tech industry.

The first few columns will be based on questions frequently asked in the Ally Skills Workshop, a three hour class that teaches people simple everyday ways to use their power and privilege to support people with less. After that, Valerie will answer questions from readers.

You can read the first column, ask a question, or sign up to get columns by email. We also welcome other folks sharing their experience and advice in the comments of each column.