Have you seen those photos of cakes that totally look like something else? A pickle, an onion, a coffee cup, a hand . . . it is bizarre. It messes with your head because the photos totally look like one thing and then they are cut open to reveal that they are in fact, a cake. Click Here to See
These photos are a good reminder that things are not always what they seem. What looks like calm, can sometimes cover seething resentments underneath the surface. What looks like conflict can sometimes be a healthy and productive exchange of ideas. What looks like objective hiring, might be biased exclusion. And what looks like fair evaluations, might in fact be subjective assessments.
What we see is interpreted based on past learnings, understandings, experiences and practices. If we have learned that it is important to be nice at all times, then we take the harmony at face value because that is what we want to see. If we are conflict avoidant, then any spirited difference of opinion will scare us. If our understanding is that the best person for the job most likely will look and think like us, then our bias feels objective. And if our evaluation practices depend on individual assessments, then there is a good chance that subjectivity is interfering with our intention to be fair.
In addition to our individual interpretations, there is a very good chance that our unquestioned work practices are rooted in white supremacy values like perfectionism, urgency, either/or thinking and competition. If we do not question what we see and do, we will replicate oppressive behaviors, thoughts, and practices.
It can be difficult to catch our interpretations; they are quick and quiet. Here are a few tools I try to carry in my metaphorical toolbox:
- What if I I’m wrong about what I am seeing/doing?
- How else could this be interpreted?
- Does this practice support openness and equity?
- Is there a way I can test my interpretation?
Asking these questions does not guarantee that I will unlearn misguided interpretations, but it can open the door to questioning what has not yet been questioned. And eventually, it can open the door to a healthier and more equitable workplace.
A cake disguised as a pickle is a fun and playful deception but in the workplace we must root out the practices that look fine on the surface but are poisoning our efforts to be a thriving and value-driven workplace.