Zoning in on cultural differences

Are African Americans progressive or conservative? “It depends,” comedian Chris Rock stressed in his last HBO special. Author and social scientist Mark Williams agrees. In a recent survey he conducted, 30% of African Americans ranked traditional values as No. 1 in importance. “African Americans tend to be progressive on issues related to civil rights,” Williams notes. “But when other issues are introduced into the mix, like gay marriage, abortion, and prayer in schools, these themes resonate with about a third of the African American community.”

Recognizing that African Americans do not all think alike has huge implications for those managing diverse work environments.

Williams has studied human behavior for more than 20 years and consulted for a number of corporate companies, including American Express and Avon, on implementing effective diversity practices. He says that understanding the complexity of individuals will go a long way in thwarting stereotypes and helping managers, businesses, and even politicians communicate their messages more effectively.

Williams’ latest book, Your Identity Zones: Who Am I? Who Are You? How Do We Get Along? (Capital Books Inc.; $15.95), uses what he calls identity zones to determine the drivers of a decision on any particular issue. Why do people do what they do on an individual level? “[Measuring identity zones is] an opportunity to look for clusters of affinity,” he further explains. “Data [shows] us that there are communities within the larger African American community. And so it will enable us to look more closely at what those communities are.”

Williams has determined five measurable zones: Temperature measures a person’s level of intensity in degrees of hot, warm, and cold. Circle of inclusion, which examines a person’s affiliation, is determined as closed, selective, or open. Commitment, the level of motivation, is described as activist, engaged, or passive. Strategy is the degree to which a person can make a change–transform, reform, or conform. Power measures your perceived ability to control day-to-day issues, which is gauged as high, medium, or low.

How hot are you? Williams says it depends on the issue. To show how differently people in the black community can chart, Williams compares the zones of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan on the issue of race:
Temperature: Farrakhan is hot. Powell is warm.
Commitment: Farrakhan is an activist. “Powell is not an activist,” says Williams. “He is more engaged.”
Power: “Farrakhan would probably believe he has moderate to high power. Powell has high power.”
Circle of Inclusion: Farrakhan is closed. Powell is open.
Strategy: Farrakhan is a transformer. Powell is a reformer. “[Powell] is not transformative in his thinking. Whatever he does, he wants to do it in the system. He’s not a conformer, because he has
supported affirmative action.”

“They are totally opposite identity zone charts,” Williams submits. “So I know if I put those two people in a room, or if they’re your employees or your customers, you’d have to use totally different strategies to interact with them.”

“The bottom line is that when it comes to values,” says Williams, “there