In an essay in Emory University’s campus magazine, President James Wagner made reference to the 3/5ths Compromise (the notion that slaves would count as 3/5 of a person for representation purposes ) as a positive example of opposing political parties finding a point of compromise.

While historically accurate – it was indeed an example of political compromise – the comment stirred controversy, protest, and accusations of racism.

What can we learn from President Wagner’s situation?  There are at lease two important Sensitivity Training lessons here:

First, you do not have to be a racist (or a chauvinist, or a homophobe or any other “ist” or “phobe”) to be tripped up by an insensitive comment.  In the world of public opinion, it is not what YOU were thinking or what YOU intended (no matter how innocent) but rather what others heard or what others might think.  And in the workplace, you do not have to be a university president to have your comments and writings subject to scrutiny; in your office, everyone is part of the court of public opinion.

Second, when a slip was made, President Wagner offered an unqualified, sincere and prompt apology.  His quickly responded with an apology to all whom he may have offended and to all who may have understood his writing to represent a condoning of slavery.  He did not make excuses, he did not back down from his use of this historical example as being illustrative of his point. He simply and clearly apologized for the impact of his words on others and for not anticipating that his example would need further clarification.

President Wagner’s response provides an important lesson: offer a quick, clear and sincere apology. He focused on the impact of his words, not his intent, and in so doing more easily enables others to receive his apology in the spirit it is offered: fully and without qualification. We should all take note:

mistakes happen, when they do, respond quickly, sincerely, with a focus on the perspective and feelings of those impacted by your words or actions.

DB Pargman Consulting LLC is the leading specialized provider of One-to-One Executive Sensitivity Training and Group Diversity & Sensitivity Training. When an organization and it’s Key People face conflicts, accusations, or potential litigation relating to diversity or sensitivity issues, DB Pargman provides prompt and remedial responses that meet expectations of legal compliance, and perhaps more importantly, restore and enhance the performance of Key People. The firm provides trainings through live one-to-one individual executive sessions, live class-room group sessions, live online virtual sessions, and follow-up ongoing executive coaching. Based out of Atlanta, Georgia, DB Pargman has served a national client base of businesses, educational institutions, and governmental agencies for over 13 years.  DB Pargman Consulting LLC is Federal GSA Schedule Contract Holder.

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