Shifting Identities in the Workplace

Arin N. Reeves
June 2011

Race. Ethnicity. Gender. Sexual Orientation. Physical Ability/Disability. Mental Ability/Disability. Religion. Marital Status. Socioeconomic Status. Native Language. Parental Status. Sibling Status. Country of Origin. College Alma Mater. Hometown. Profession.

As you read the list were there particular identity characteristics that you connected with more than others? Reread the list and select the three that you feel are the most important characteristics to you when you are with your professional colleagues and acquaintances. Are these the same three characteristics that you would select if you were thinking about your identity when you are with your family and friends?

Which three characteristics do you want people to focus on when describing you? When we run this exercise in workshops, most people find that at least one, and most often two, of the characteristics shift as the context shifts. With enough time, most people in our workshops can identify several contexts in their lives that have no overlapping identity characteristics at all.

Think Smarter. Lead Better.

  • It is not that I'm so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.

    Albert Einstein
  • Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.

    James Surowiecki
  • One must even beware of too much certainty that the answer to life's problems can only be found in one way and that all must agree to search for light in the same way and cannot find it in any other way.

    Eleanor Roosevelt
  • The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

    F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Differences challenge assumptions.

    Anne Wilson Schaef
  • Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation.

    Mahatma Gandhi
  • Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences.

    Mikhail Gorbachev
  • Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

    Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • I not only use all the brains that I have, but all I can borrow.

    Woodrow Wilson
  • The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.

    Albert Einstein
  • Honest difference of views and honest debate are not disunity. They are the vital process of policy among free men.

    Herbert Hoover
  • Diversity creates dimension in the world.

    Elizabeth Ann Lawless
  • Difference of opinion is helpful in religion.

    Thomas Jefferson
  • Wide differences of opinion in matters of religious, political, and social belief must exist if conscience and intellect alike are not to be stunted, if there is to be room for healthy growth.

    Theodore Roosevelt
  • To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.

    Tony Robbins
  • Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.

    Isaac Asimov
  • Honest difference of views and honest debate are not disunity.They are the vital process of policy among free men.

    Herbert Hoover
  • Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.

    Walter Lippmann
  • Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.

    Stephen R. Covey
  • In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.

    Audre Lorde
  • America has believed that in differentiation, not in uniformity, lies the path of progress. It acted on this belief; it has advanced human happiness, and it has prospered.

    Louis D. Brandeis
  • Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.

    Stephen R. Covey
  • When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.

    Charles Evan Hughes
  • Wit lies in recognizing the resemblance among things which differ and the difference between things which are alike.

    Madame De Stael
  • Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.

    Malcolm Forbes
  • Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs.

    Leo Tolstoy
  • The biggest mistake is believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation -- or a relationship.

    Deborah Tannen
  • Controversial' as we all know, is often a euphemism for 'interesting and intelligent.

    Kevin Smith
  • There never were in the world two opinions alike, no more than two hairs or two grains; the most universal quality is diversity.

    Michel de Montaigne