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home : columns : dear harriette November 17, 2019

8/15/2019 7:36:00 AM
African American employee worried about standing out

DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently started a new job, and I am the only African American person in the entire workplace. I don't know how to feel or what to expect because this is the first time I've been the only minority at my place of work. I'm not sure if I should even pay attention to it or if I should keep my guard up. While I don't want to be at work with a negative perspective, I can tell that most of the employees are a little shocked that I got this position. Some are masking it by being overly nice. Can you give me some tips on how to be comfortable in an environment where no one looks like me? -- Stand Out

DEAR STAND OUT: Even today, in 2019, there are many work environments that are not diverse. As in your case, believe it or not, there are still workplaces where someone can be the "first" person to diversify the workforce. Naturally, that can feel awkward -- for you and for the other employees. Rather than being self-conscious, hunker down and do your job. Figure out what success looks like in your company. Find out what the markers are for being a stellar employee and fulfilling the requirements of your job, and do your best to be excellent.

You will also need to build rapport with your co-workers. Go slowly on this front. Be a keen observer. Notice what my mother calls "the bright lights in the room." Who stands out for you as a friendly, welcoming person? Befriend those people first. Also, take note of anyone who seems to dislike you. Keep those people in your peripheral vision so that you are aware of any efforts they might make to derail you. Stay the course. Believe in yourself. Hone your skills when needed. Ask questions of your supervisor. Demonstrate that you have the abilities and desire to be in that role.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I just found out that a good friend of mine that I thought I was getting to know better was lying to me about certain aspects of his life. We talked every day, and I felt he was becoming someone I could open up to. While the topic he lied about is juvenile and I understand that he did it to make himself look better, he broke my trust. My No. 1 rule is having no liars around me, but this is how I've lost friends in the past. I simply cut off individuals who break my trust, even if it is for the first time.

I'm debating whether I'm too harsh and should give people more chances, or am I right to cut people off? I don't want to lose my friend, but I wonder if he was a real friend at all or if he lied about other things? -- Rejecting Liars

DEAR REJECTING LIARS: Your hard line about lying may be too rigid. It may be best to look at each relationship individually to assess whether you can forgive a person for a particular behavior, or if the person went too far.

In this case, you say that the lie was juvenile and seemingly insignificant. Perhaps you can talk to your friend about what happened, let him know how you feel about people who lie to you and explain to him that you are reluctant to remain his friend. Admit that you are now worried about whether he has lied about other things or if he will lie to you in the future. Talk it out to see if forgiveness has a place in this friendship.

Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut

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