Self-Perception is Contagious

It’s easier to belong when we aren’t looking for ways that we don’t.

Margarita Diaz

There is an often-asked question out there that might be doing more harm than good:

“Are you the only [member of a particular race, culture or ethnicity] in the room?”

If you ever answered “yes,” maybe the words that followed this question helped you feel understood.

Maybe they gave you confidence that you belong despite being “the only __.”


But what this question will do is highlight for you that you were “the only” regarding an attribute you had nothing to do with.

Have you heard of selective attention?

🧠 Selective attention is the mechanism by which we notice things we are looking for at the exclusion of other things in plain sight.

🧠 So the more we hear this question, the more we are prone to selectively look to check if we are “the only __” when we sense we are treated less than how we would like to be treated.

We potentially start to over-attribute the words or actions of others to our being “the only __.”

And miss other, equally or even more compelling clues that something else was going on, around or within us.

So instead of looking to identify as “the only,” we can:

👀 Look at our behaviors, demeanor, confidence, approachability and other factors within our control;

👀 Take a gentle look at what biases we might have in how we are reading a situation, or how we tend to think others are perceiving us.

Because ultimately, we don’t know why others do or say as they do, but how we perceive ourselves will go a long way in affecting not just the quality of our experiences, but how others ultimately perceive us as well.

In Practice

Sometimes our race, culture or ethnicity is a factor in how others speak or behave towards us and it’s something to address.

But for those times when we are unsure but our mind goes to check if we were “the only __ in the room,” try this:

▪️Share your experience with people OUTSIDE of your ethnic, racial or cultural group.

•Be open to hearing about their experiences too, without shutting them down because “they can’t know what it feels like . . .”

▪️Share it with people familiar with or a part of the same environment where you had the experience, provided you feel comfortable.

•Maybe they have had similar experiences irrespective of race, culture or ethnicity.

▪️Listen to how they respond.  Do they say “Wow I have had a very different experience!” or instead,  “Yeah, I have had that happen to me too!”

▪️These conversations will help put in perspective how much your race, culture or ethnicity or being “the only __” might have been a factor.

And remember:

✨ It’s easier to belong when we aren’t looking for ways that we don’t.

✨ Self-perception is contagious.

❓How are you choosing to see yourself?

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