We won’t pretend that this is easy. When our actions upset others, it is not always possible to immediately reach a resolution and diffuse everyone’s discomfort. Left unchecked, confusion and frustration can lead to hostility, disrespect and avoidance, preempting the healthy conversations that give rise to diversity’s long-term benefits. Consider these examples of potentially derailing encounters, which are based on actual student experiences:
- A male student says to a female student, “That’s a big tattoo! Did you get your husband’s permission to do that?”
- A U.S.-born guest lecturer avoids calling on students whose names may be difficult to pronounce.
- Student organizers of a cultural event choose to present art produced by a confessed sex offender, despite objections by some peers.
The ECHO approach takes on these situations in an almost literal way. To stay engaged when we respond to challenging viewpoints, misperceptions and other frustrations, we must first attempt to echo what we’ve heard in order to make sure we’ve understood the speaker’s intent:
- “Before I respond, can I clarify something? Were you concerned that _________, or was it something else?”
- “I’m hearing that you feel ________; is that correct?”
- “Quick check, when you said ________, did that mean you ______?”
With this kind of engagement, we can more accurately understand what someone has said and create a shared awareness of one another’s views. We can then
courageously explore and respond to those views — committed to being
open as opportunities arise — and thus increase our chances of having an informed and respectful dialogue.