Identity is my sense of who I am. Identity is my sense of my self. Identity is what I associate myself with, link myself to. Identity is what makes me me. Often, identity is what I call myself, and, if I am influenced by it, it is what others call me.
Identity can be a choice. I can choose to identify myself with a cause. “I am a vegetarian”.
Identity can be something we haven’t chosen, something we inherited or were born with: “I am a woman”.
Identity can also be relative. We gain it from our comparison with others, and with “standards” and prevailing attitudes and values:
“I am short”
“I’m not very academic”
“I’m not a go getter”
The strength of how we emotionally associate ourselves with something determines the strength of our “identity” in terms of that something.
In a way, it is the extent to which something “bothers” us that creates negative identity, and the extent that something “energises” or positively motivates us that creates a more positive identity.
We don’t have just one identity, though often one or more tend to dominate. They also change with situations. My different identifications are my “diversities”:
I Am I Am I Am
I am a man.
I am middle aged.
I am a manager.
I am a cancer survivor.
I am an owner of property.
I am not good when asked to speak in public.
Each of these will come more or less to the fore in different situations and they could even be mapped, like slices of a cake representing their importance in any given situations:
I am a man (60%)
I am a manager (20%)
I am a cancer survivor (10%)
I am an owner of property (5%)
I am not good when asked to speak in public (5%)
This is a rough estimate of my diversity “mix” on a typical day. Of course, if I am asked to speak at a business conference, on that day, my diversity mix will change as I become identified mostly with being a manager who is not good at speaking in public! If I go for a check up at the doctor, the fact of me being a cancer survivor may shoot up in terms of identification.
So, it can be dangerous to fix our view of someone’s diversity mix, because it changes from day to day – more in some people than others.
Reading the diversity mix
However, being able to read the mix in any given situation is a key skill to managing diversity – some of which is overt and clear, some of which is more hidden.
What does your own diversity mix look like?
What different situations change it?
How do you like to be treated when different diversities come to the fore?
Our approaches and responses also have to be diverse!
Sometimes I want one of the diversities in my diversity mix to be acknowledged and respected more than others. Sometimes that mix changes even during one conversation! It can change from day to do, with mood and circumstances. Empathy is one way to tune into it. We get into the shoes of the other person, reaching out with our attention, our listening and we try to feel with the person. Sometimes empathy doesn’t work. Sometimes we have to maintain a distance and simply wait, enquire. Often the needs of a customer aren’t even obvious to them! Then, empathy is the last thing we need as we might get too drawn in or become selective in responding only to “feeling”, to emotional information. Sometimes customer care isn’t about empathising but in being in a different state. The customer might want us to be apathetic (without fellow feeling), detached and even “cold”. Sometimes this is what patients want when they just want facts from their doctor. Sometimes we may even play a bit of a “game” of being antipathetic, telling the customer off or holding a firm line that stops unacceptable behaviour.