Learn how to use positive peer pressure to protect diversity in your workplace

Devan Moonsamy

It seems that executives are dropping like flies due to diversity-related disasters. I am too often involved in reactive responses to diversity problems, especially those related to race. More often than not, the destruction caused by colleagues’ refusal to get along merely on the basis ofc olour is completely unnecessary.

The clean-up for HR and people managers is daunting. People dig their heels in and refuse to see reason. Sometimes people lose their jobs for the silliest of things. There is serious racism from all directions which destroys careers and sometimes unnecessarily. South Africans need to acknowledge that if they are too easily offended by people’s comments and behaviour, the problem actually lies with them.

Good diversity relations can be established in the most heterogeneous of groups through diversity training designed for the South African workplace. We must work towards solidly cemented relationships and reaching mutual understanding.

One way we can manage diversity well is by learning to effectively apply peer pressure in a positive way. This is something that can be taught in training sessions with high success. Preventing interpersonal problems by bringing people together in a neutral space to learn how to self-manage and manage others in diverse contexts is a winning formula.

Still, interventions are too often reactive, and it is too late to build good relationships and teach the healthy habits of placing positive peer pressure on those around us and ourselves. How do we do so? How does positive peer pressure work? It requires five key elements:

  • Be a good rolemodel in your speech and actions. Display maturity in your reactions and decision-making, even in difficult situations.
  • In-group admonition. Calling a person out immediately when something offensive has been said or done is sometimes preferable, especially when the victim – a genuine victim and not someone playing the role – needs to be championed. The offender must know what they said or did was wrong. Delaying the reprimand delays the consequences that must be felt by the offender. If the matter is not dealt with swiftly, it will escalate. However, this is no time for everyone to climb on the bandwagon and start attacking someone who made a slip up.
  • Peer-to-peer admonition. Apply positive peer pressure by taking othersaside afterwards. Analyse the situation with them and work towards constructivegoals to make amends for the wrong and prevent reoccurrences. This is done withthe victim and with the offender separately, and together, as appropriate.  
  • Focus on new constructive goals. Encourage peopleto see beyond their own hang-ups, neuroses, complexes and over-sensitiveness. Setnew goals for interpersonal relationships, and to build respect andunderstanding among colleagues.
  • Protect the disciplinary process from abuse. Ensure legitimate cases are takenseriously and individuals are not victimised through the processes.

We really need to be more careful in the use of the disciplinary process in race relations. People of colour need to be taken seriously when they have true grievances. By harping on small issues and making mountains out of molehills, those with real grievances are undermined. Less time is available to devote to those genuine grievances and to other critical programmes such a steam building.

Eventually, no one takes the person who repeatedly cries ‘Racist!’ seriously. Even when they have a genuine grievance, they won’t be taken seriously and supported. People of colour are poorly treated at times by racists. However, it is in your best interests to play your ‘race card’ carefully. You may only get one chance and, if it’s not legitimate, your reputation will be ruined.

Don’t wait for diversity issues to destroy interpersonal relationships and careers at your organisation. Train your staff on how to manage diversity,steer clear of race-related offences and towards optimum productivity and healthy workplace relationships.  

Book a seminar with diversity specialist Devan Moonsamy from the ICHAF Training Institute.

Devan has also recently published a book on the topic of diversity in the South African context entitled Racism,Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us (ISBN: 978-0-620-80807-1). Order copies for your managerial staff directly from ICHAF. It is specially designed for the needs of contemporary South African workplaces. It offers valuable insight into diversity-related challenges.

The book looks at overcoming instant separation magnets (ISMs), and how to manage diversity so that everybody wins. The aspects of diversity are considered in detail with real examples and practical information on dealing with and preventing diversity-related problems.

Tel: 011 262 2461

Email: devan@ichaftraining.co.za

Website: ichaftraining.co.za