The Ugly Truth About "Othering" – Join Our #MTtalk! » Mind Tools Blog

The Ugly Truth About “Othering” – Join Our #MTtalk!

April 9, 2019

Please Join Us!

What: #MTtalk
Where: Twitter
When: Friday, April 12 @ 1 p.m. EDT (5 p.m. GMT / 10:30 p.m. IST)
Topic: The Ugly Truth About “Othering”
Host: @Mind_Tools

“It doesn’t take a declaration, or an invasion, to start a war, all it takes is an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’ And a spark.” 
― Ada Palmer, American author.

About This Week’s Chat

“I didn’t know that people like you could play hockey,” he said.

“What does ‘people like me’ mean?” I asked.

“Well, you know… People who look like you,” he said, sounding less sure of himself.

He wasn’t going to get off so lightly. I was determined to make him say it.

“Oh, you mean blonde people?”

“No, um….” He was properly embarrassed by now. “I mean people with your body type.”

Everyone around us fell silent.

“Oh? Interesting. What do you think I am: an ectomorph, endomorph or mesomorph?”

By now he was completely tongue-tied. My last comment had confused him, but there was nothing confusing about what he had meant. I felt humiliated and increasingly angry.

“Spit it out, Alan,” I said, and not in my kindest tone of voice. “You meant you didn’t know that fat people could play hockey.”

“Um, yes, but I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Ignoring the latter part of his sentence, I asked, “What on earth would make you think that, Alan?”

“I don’t know,” came his meek response.

I’d had enough. “Maybe next time you should think before you speak,” I said, and left.

People Like You

In my twenties, I was substantially overweight and was constantly subjected to “othering.” This exchange at a social hockey game was the last straw. I was done with keeping quiet when people treated me this way – assuming I was unintelligent, slow or lazy because I was overweight.

When friends made plans there was always the guy who’d ask something like, “But what will the fat people do while we go skating/hiking/riding?” It was supposed to be funny, but it wasn’t. It was hurtful. Someone always found a way to emphasize the “otherness” of the two larger people in our friendship group.

In my family it was a virtue to be skinny, too. You could be unkind, intolerant, immature, hurtful, gossipy – just as long as you weren’t fat. Family members would make remarks about my weight, and if I ever dared to respond, they didn’t think it was because I was human and hurting, but because I was jealous.

Sticks and Stones

I grew up hearing, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Well, I beg to differ. Sticks and stones can hurt you physically, but words can kill your soul.

As I learned through my own experiences, pigeonholing someone because of one aspect of their appearance or character can lead to an insidious dehumanization of others. You can begin to see anyone from another race, culture, class, sexual orientation, or political belief as one of “them.” It sounds innocuous but the language is loaded, the words implying that all “those people” are wrong or fundamentally different in some way.

Unfortunately, through our use of language, we have found many ways to treat people who are not in “our group” as inferior, or even dangerous.

Othering is an easy way to make sense of the world, even if it’s not a very sensible way. Learning about people, and learning to accept them as they are (not as you want them to be) requires more energy than simply labeling them and putting them in a box.

The Ugly Truth About “Othering”

In our #MTtalk Twitter chat this week, we’re going to discuss the ugly truth about othering.

We’ll break down what othering means and why it’s important to talk about it. We’d also like you to share examples of othering that you’ve experienced or observed. (If you’re unable to participate in the chat, please share in the Comments section, below.)

In our Twitter poll, we asked what type of othering you’ve been subjected to in the workplace. Shockingly, 42 percent of participants voted for being othered based on their appearance. Only 14 percent experienced othering based on their qualifications.

Author and trainer Dr. Eve Kedar (@kineretk) will be our guest contributor during this chat. We’re looking forward to welcoming her expert voice to #MTtalk!

We’d love you to participate in the chat, and the following questions may spark some thoughts in preparation for it:

  What do you understand “othering” to mean?

  Where does othering come from? Why does it occur?

  In what ways do we engage in othering?

  Why is othering so persistent?

  Are you guilty of othering?

  How do you embrace otherness?

  What can leaders and managers do to address othering in the workplace?


To help you prepare for the chat, we’ve compiled a list of resources for you to browse.

Avoiding Unconscious Bias at Work

Making the Most of Employee Resource Groups

Avoiding Discrimination

Opening Closed Minds

How to Manage Passive-Aggressive People

Dweck’s Fixed and Growth Mindsets

Questioning Techniques

Managing Mutual Acceptance in Your Team

Cross-Culture Communication

Minority Influence Strategy

How to Join

Follow us on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the action this Friday! We’ll be tweeting out 10 questions during our hour-long chat. To participate in the chat, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on “Latest” or “All Tweets” and you’ll be able to follow the live chat feed. You can join the chat by using the hashtag #MTtalk in your responses.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Please note that we reserve the right to remove comments that we feel are off-topic or offensive. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

View our Privacy Policy.

© Mind Tools Ltd, 1996-2019. All rights reserved. "Mind Tools" is a registered trademark of Mind Tools Ltd.

Click here for permissions information.