How to come out at work, about anything | The Way We Work, a TED series

151,928 views

2020-11-30・ TED

How to come out at work, about anything | The Way We Work, a TED series

151,928 views・2020-11-30

TED


Please double-click on the English subtitles below to play the video.

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Transcriber: TED Translators Admin Reviewer: Ivana Korom
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Coming out.
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Typically we think of this
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as being an experience specific to the queer community.
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But we all have things that we're keeping in our closets.
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It could be something about our home and family life,
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about our mental or physical health.
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Maybe you're not allergic to cats, you just don't like them.
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I feel you on that one.
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Whatever it is that you're keeping in your closet,
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it shapes the way you navigate the world.
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That can include your work life.
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So how do we go about disclosing these important,
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but sometimes difficult to talk about aspects of who we are?
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And when someone comes out to us,
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what can we best do to listen and support them?
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[The Way We Work]
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[Made possible with the support of Dropbox]
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Hi, my name's Micah.
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But it hasn't always been.
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After a year at my current place of work,
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I started the process of coming out as trans.
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When I sat down with human resources to talk
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about how to reintroduce myself to everybody,
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neither of us had answers.
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Nobody at my place of work had come out as trans before,
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but that's what I'm here to offer you.
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Three tips on how to talk
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about things that are hard to talk about.
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And for those of you on the other side of the conversation,
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I have some advice for you too, on how you can best listen,
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respond and be an active ally for your colleague.
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I can't give you the exact words to say,
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because they should be your own.
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After all I don't know what you're keeping in your closet.
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But whatever it might be,
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I hope these tips will provide you with a framework
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that's going to help you decide exactly what you want to say
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and how you want to say it.
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Know what you want and don't want out of the conversation.
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To know this, ask yourself questions like,
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do I need anything
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from the person that I'm disclosing this to?
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Where do I want the conversation to go from here,
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if anywhere at all?
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And how do I want this person
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to understand my own relationship with this aspect of who I am?
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So, in my case, I knew I wanted people to call me
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by my new name and pronouns.
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But I also didn't want them to avoid me
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out of fear of messing them up.
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This was going to take time.
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And I wanted this to feel like any other ordinary fact
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about who I am.
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So now we know what we want to communicate.
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Let's talk about how we're going to say it.
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By setting the tone.
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You're going to want to present the information
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in the same way you want people to respond to it.
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They're going to be looking and listening for cues
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on what the appropriate response is.
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Is this something that you want to be celebrated?
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I'm trans!
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Or do you want to just address it and move on with your life?
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Oh, by the way, I'm trans.
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There's no one right way to say it for everybody.
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What's most important here is what's right for you.
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Another note,
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we're not going to be able to control the way
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in which everybody responds to this.
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But what we do have control over
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is how they understand our own relationship
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with this part of who we are.
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So now that we know what we want to say
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and how we want to say it,
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where do we want the conversation to go from here?
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Well, my advice is to give an action item.
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This will help you keep control of the conversation
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by giving people direction
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on what they're supposed to do or say next.
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I knew I wanted this to feel like any other ordinary fact about who I am.
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So I decided I was going to use my coming out
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to solve an ordinary problem.
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And I sent the following email.
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"Hello all, I need your help.
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I am in the market for a moisturizer to help with my dry skin.
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I'm also in the process of out as trans.
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I'm changing my name to Micah
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and my pronouns are he, him, his.
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If you have any questions about my change in pronouns
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or my skin care needs,
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feel free to send an email
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to my updated contact information.
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And I'd also like to note that while my skin is dry,
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it is not too sensitive.
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We're all going to mess up my name and my pronouns,
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myself included.
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So when this happens, don't panic or cringe!
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Please be kind to yourself
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as we stumble through these growing pains together.
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I'm fortunate and grateful to work in a place
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where I feel embraced in any form,
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be it as a transgender man or a person with dry skin
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or in this case, both."
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Now, I'm going to be honest,
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I haven't made many changes to my skin-care routine
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since sending this email.
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But I will say that I am feeling much more comfortable
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in my own skin.
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And that's what thanks to responses like these.
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[You have all the love and support, Micah!
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And please know that I highly rec Clinique products.]
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[You are the best.
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You are and will always be one of my favorite people (at work).
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Even if you do have terribly dry skin.]
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[Thank you for being you,
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however much or little you want to talk about dry skin, genders, bodies, etc.
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I will be here for you.]
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[Thank you for giving us permission to mess up ...]
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Now you might be wondering,
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if I'm the listener in this conversation,
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what can I best do to support my colleague
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other than maybe referring them to my dermatologist?
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Well, for starters, listen
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with an open heart and an empathetic ear.
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You're especially going to want to listen here
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for the specific language the person is using
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to describe themself and their experience
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because that's the same language
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you're going to want to use back to them.
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You might be tempted to ask your coworkers some questions
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about their identity.
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Before you ask them a question,
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ask yourself,
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can I find the answer to this in a search engine?
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Chances are the answer is yes.
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And if the answer is no, ask yourself,
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is this too personal of a question
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for me to be asking my colleague.
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One question that is okay to ask though,
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is there anything I can do to support you at this time?
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This is a note for if you're responding in the moment and in person.
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But if you want to be an active ally,
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the conversation doesn't end here,
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it picks up again with your colleagues and human resources
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on how you can make your workplace more inclusive
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of this person's identity.
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Chances are it's not just going to help them
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but maybe someone else down the line.
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Now, in my case,
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it would be adding pronouns to your email signature
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and asking your coworkers to do the same
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in order to help normalize it across the org.
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It could also be talking to HR
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about having more trans-inclusive health care policies.
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And my last piece of advice is for both the listener
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and the leader in the conversation.
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Remember that they're the same person
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you've always known them to be.
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It's the weight of stereotypes and stigmas
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that often keep our closet doors shut.
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We're afraid people are now going to see us as this thing
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instead of seeing this thing as an aspect of who we are,
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of we've always been.
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I know that was the case for me too,
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but it got easier for me to say, my name is Micah
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because of the way I saw it not only accepted,
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but enthusiastically embraced by all of my coworkers.
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So whatever it is you're keeping in your closet,
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I hope these tips empower you
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to bring your authentic self into your workplace
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and hopefully feel more comfortable in your own skin.
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