“That’s not been my experience.”​

Article written by Monica Mwanje

How this phrase can help or hinder open discussion and learning.

With growing focus across business on building inclusive diverse teams, more conversations are beginning to take place.

Conversations in this space, can be a good thing, especially if they are well facilitated and psychological safety[1] has been established.

Sharing lived experience with one another enables knowledge transfer and provides opportunities for learning.

Let’s take a look at a discussion between two industry peers; Person A and Person B.

Person A is from an underrepresented demographic. Person B is from the majority demographic in that industry.

Person A comments on a barrier they have experienced whilst trying to progress their career. Person B’s immediate response is: “well that’s not been my experience of the industry. That has not happened to me and I cannot believe people behave like that.”

Person B has essentially shutdown the conversation and is quite dismissive of what Person A had to say or could share with them. Despite saying they wanted to be more inclusive, they were unwilling to be open to the fact that different experiences exist. End result, Person A walks away feeling frustrated.

How could this scenario be handled differently? Person B could have said to Person A: “That’s not been my experience, so if you feel comfortable please tell me more about how it has been for you.”

Showing an openness to listen, and respecting Person A’s boundaries would have enabled them to share. They then could have had a discussion and learned from each other ways in which they can each influence change in the future.

If you think about it, consistency in how we are treated can vary. There are some restaurants I have been to where the food was great, and the service was exemplary. Yet friends may visit and have an opposite experience. If they relayed to me what has happened, I would listen, empathise and ask if there’s anything they need me to do. And vice versa.

Viewpoints differ too. If you give a young toddler a camera and ask them to take a picture of a tall tree, they will most likely take it from their perspective at the time. So, if they are not as tall as you for example, they may well cut off the top of the image. Or if you asked a child to wear a body camera on the first day of school and asked a teacher to wear one too, the resulting footage would pick up on differing aspects of the school day experience. Neither piece of footage will be “wrong” it will just highlight the differing ways we see and experience the world and the way the world can see/treat us.

To summarise; embracing lived experience and knowledge is a powerful way to influence and inspire inclusion. However there needs to be a willingness to listen and learn and to drop any defensiveness.

The phrase: “That’s not been my experience…” has the power to commence and facilitate learning. Aim to use it in this way. Creating a psychologically safe space for people to share, will require the establishment of trust; when done correctly the benefits are incredibly positive for all within the workplace.


[1] Psychological safety is being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career (Kahn 1990, p. 708). Kahn, William A. (1990-12-01). “Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work”Academy of Management Journal33(4): 692–724. doi:10.2307/256287ISSN 0001-4273JSTOR 256287.