Prejudice Vs. Discrimination – Which Makes a Difference?

A manager might be  prejudiced, but if this individual does not discriminate, legally it does not make any difference.   We don’t care what people think, we care what they do!   Know the difference between these two unfortunate situations and know what might be actionable if it affects you.  When it comes to prejudice, thicken your skin and when it comes to discrimination know the rules.  Above all…always be the professional!

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If you have read Black Sales Journal before, you recognize that I frequently comment on racial prejudice, racial preference, and the effects of negative racial perceptions.  It is natural to provide comment on these topics as they represent the 8,000-pound elephant in the room and as a result are not discussed openly in most forums.

We spend time discussing how the Black sales professional can successfully use tactics to neutralize racial preference and how we all (all Black professionals) can nullify and improve negative racial perceptions.  We also face the fact that racial prejudice is a different and difficult beast and that we may never change it.   Psychiatrists often characterize prejudice as a deep-seated attitude.  We all are aware that something negative has been cast into someone’s personal life, it can have a permanent effect.

Importantly, we should recognize the relationship between racial prejudice and racial discrimination and how they manifest themselves in sales.

The Attitude versus the Action!

For the purpose of this explanation let’s define both of these:

Prejudice – Unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.

Discrimination – Treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit:  racial and religious intolerance and discrimination.

(Courtesy of Dictionary.com definitions 3/5/2012)

So there you have it, racial prejudice is an attitude.  It can reach deep into ones fiber, but an individual will never be tried in a court based on this attitude, as it is not a crime.  If a customer has this attitude, they still remain a viable customer for someone, but possibly not for a Black sales professional.  If your employer has this attitude it is unfortunate yet as long as they make objective and meritorious decisions, they are not guilty.   In other words they can be prejudice but not discriminate strange as it may sound.

Racial discrimination is a different animal as it is action oriented.  A distinction made on the basis of race can potentially be afoul of the laws and regulations, and is almost always ethnically wrong.  It goes without saying that racial discrimination is unfair and although a customer is free to do anything they want, in the case of an employer it could be legally actionable.

The Vicious Circle

The relationship between prejudice and racial discrimination is suggested to be ‘circular’; meaning one leads to the other.  You document racial discrimination but you talk about prejudice as someones disposition or attitude.  Racial discrimination might mean that you get no ‘call-in’ prospects, bad territories, or no house (orphaned by another rep leaving) accounts.  Discrimination may be hard to prove, yet there is evidence, especially when you are able to compare the situation on a relative basis between all sales professionals at a location.  Know what extras you get and how well you performed when you get the chances and if you feel aggrieved read Black Sales Journal 3/9/2011 When You Feel Screwed  – Three Steps to Getting Help.

I make the suggestion that from the standpoint of professional sales that we realize that the most important activities that we can undertake are as follows:

  • Look for and expect fairness from the managers that we work for and be prepared to professionally point out inequities, in a professional manner, as they happen.
  • Document important milestones and activities correctly recognizing that it is “not what you know, it’s what you can prove!”
  • Master your company’s performance system (Black Sales Journal 1/10/2011 – Preparing for the Performance Review Discussion).  Always be pro-active and prepared.
  • Document every thing you get and what you don’t get.  Know the prospects, house accounts, and special benefits you get, and document them well.  Especially document the situation if you are not getting any.  You will need to know what others are getting to have a chance of success.  The facts count.
  • Be the expert on you! Know your sales totals, close ratios, and what percentage of your success came from the company giving you prospects or accounts.

When Bad Gets Worse – Racial Harassment

The unfairness of racial discrimination creates frustration and ill will.  Things are even worse when there is racial harassment.  Racial harassment normally comes from the employer and can emanate from management or coworkers.  A strong example of this is the Montrelle Reese vs. ThyssenKrupp (see Black Sales Journal February 13, 2012).

Racial harassment has a primary purpose of demeaning and driving an individual out of the particular work environment.  It is akin to racial bullying and has no place anywhere, especially in the work environment.  Making someone miserable is awful, and anyone who witnesses it and does nothing is full of fault as well.  It makes no difference as to the colors involved.

Know the facts and know your options.  Most importantly, recognize that acts of discrimination, harassment, and bullying may be actionable, but prejudice is not.  It is an attitude.

Additionally, always be the professional.

Your comments are welcome.

The Raw Truth About Your Business Relationships!

TrustI had a meeting with a buyer to discuss adding another line of business to his account.  I felt that I could save him money, and I felt I could make some money for my company and me as well.  He was always an easy person to talk to, and I measured my relationship with him at to be at the highest level.  As his need for the product was high, this might just be a matter of timing.  He was accepting proposals from three vendors in total.

I went to him, presented a ‘death grip’ (a proposal that had price and product that could not be denied) and his response was, “I am going to stay where I am on this one.  You price is good, and I like your organization, but maybe next time.

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Almost every business relationship has a limit, and it is usually because of the trust factor.  When the requisite level of trust is absent, the resulting trust deficit might be based on the sales professional, and in many cases, it will be based on the company that sales professional represents. Either way it ‘stops’ the sales process in a way that does not result in any revenue changing hands.

In the case above, the buyer did not have enough confidence in either me, or my organization, to let money change hands.  Getting the order means getting over this “hump”.  Obviously this was a learning situation for me.

The Trust Deficit

“Every sale has five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust.”

Zig Ziglar

No one wants to think that they are not trusted, but usually this is not personal …this is business!  You have not necessarily done any wrong, but you may still have work to do getting rid of the trust deficit

This obstacle is seldom meant to beckon that you aren’t trustworthy, it is meant to show the relationship is not as solid and intimate as you thought.  You can overcome this lack of trust, and should not take it personally.

Are You At a Disadvantage?

Black sales professionals should assume they are at a disadvantage until it is proven otherwise.   Let me explain that.  Being at a disadvantage means that you have work to do.  Assume you do not have all of the trust necessary to close the deal, but the good part is that you are in the game.

Trust is an essential factor to consummate a business relationship, and the raw truth is that when you are Black or another minority, you need to work continuously to make sure that trust is present as you may be lacking one of the most important aspects of a positive business relationship, something I call preference.  If you will remember from earlier of issues of Black Sales Journal, specificallyBSJ 12/27/2010 Preference, Prejudice, and Perceptions and Your Customer, and BSJ 12/12/2011 Racial Preference in Action to name an important few, preference is important.  It is at the top, and the bottom, of any business relationship.

Improper Racial CommentsPreference is ‘socially’ legal.  Preference is still different from “racial preference” as you will see if you read the above articles.  Racial preference is vexing, and is everything wrong with business.  Racial preference is racial prejudice!

I will speak more on this important item in a moment.

Building Trust

How do you get the trust you need.  How do you generate the most complete relationship?  Well, I am going to point you in the direction of a couple of in-depth articles on building the trustful relationship between you and the customer:

Sales professional and CustomerBlack Sales Journal 7/11/2011- Deepening Your Customer Relationships – The Holy Grail for the Black Sales Professional

Read this to know how to construct and maintain the strongest relationships.  Remember, relationships are everything.

Black Sales Journal 1/20/2011 – Deepening Your Customer Relationships Part 2

Read this one to gain access to a simple customer profile that you can change as you see necessary, and other tools to help you record and recognize the relationship and its strength.

The Role of Racial Preference

Racial preference is essentially racial prejudice, and there is frankly no other way to state it.  Are you at a disadvantage?  The answer is ‘possibly’.

We need to face the fact that there are many buyers who could care less about your color, and believe in fairness.  Many more believe that they do, but are affected by forces that they don’t even recognize.

That is the nature of racial prejudice.  It is easily hidden from view, and with that in mind I suggest you always assume you are at a disadvantage.

Read about it in the articles I cite, you will recognize it, and learn to make the proper assumptions.

Relationship Building 101

Build a relationship for all of the reasons cited in these posts, and put your energy and resources toward making sure that you cement together a solid, enduring relationship founded in trust.  Deliver on your promises and commitments and you will create the underpinnings of a trusting relationship.

Ask the customer how you are doing…get meaningful feedback from this important relationship.  More in Black Sales Journal 3/12/2012, Ask Your Customer for Feedback.  You will be amazed at how the customer begins to start to develop an affinity for you if you will put yourself on the line like this.

Be the best at what you do, and remember you cannot win without your customer’s trust, and relationships are everything.

Your comments are appreciated.  You can reach me at michael.parker@blacksalesjournal.com.