How to Talk About Race

Does it seem scary to talk about race?

How is racial tension similar to an uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner?

And what if the thing that would make a difference is much closer than we could imagine?

Recently I learned a valuable lesson: that I could actually talk to my black friends about their experiences instead of making assumptions and relying on the media or some idealogical group to tell me what to say, think, or do.

Having these individual conversations has been revelatory for many reasons — one of which was realizing again how much simply being curious and paying attention could have a huge impact.

I learned that it was safe to ask questions and to simply listen. That I wouldn’t be attacked because I was white or if I didn’t get it politically correct.

One of the conversations that cracked my world open was with my friend, Mark Palmer. He’s an author and corporate leadership consultant, and even though we’ve known each other for many years, I’ve never asked him about his experience as a black man because it didn’t feel comfortable or safe.

I’m glad that I finally did.

After that first conversation I asked him if he would be willing to record another one where we could explore this topic a bit further. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m glad we managed to share so many laughs along the way. Enjoy.

In this interview:

  • Is it safe to talk about race?
  • The media being a funhouse mirror version of reality
  • The importance of psychological safety
  • The importance of humanizing race instead of making it about groups
  • The fear of “not getting it right”


  • The difference between anger and aggression
  • “Anger can’t be the only voice in the room.”
  • When trying to “fix” something gets in the way
  • Why listening is a superpower
  • Why it’s okay to faceplant

About Mark Palmer

Mark Palmer is co-creator of the Position Success Indicator; The Job Fit Calculator; and LaborGenome™ Talent Mapping technology.

He is co-author of the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook, and senior editor for the Innovative Leadership Guide to Transforming Organizations. Mark is also a consultant, and Principal and Advisor with Metcalf & Associates, Inc., a management consulting firm offering progressive leadership development, team building and organizational effectiveness. He was also a TEDx OSU Speaker in 2012.

Mark has 20 years of corporate experience including strategic planning, market research, and data analysis. He is a contributing writer, editor and lecturer on leadership development and organizational development.

His background includes Social and Behavioral Science, Economics, Cultural Studies, and Anthropology.

Specialties: dynamic talent data solutions, advanced talent mapping and intelligence, staff and role optimization, leadership and organizational development, integrated business solutions and strategic planning.