Subtle Cues You (Don’t) Belong

I wrote this letter before the not so subtle cues this week from Gov. Abbott when he ordered Texas state agencies to investigate gender-affirming care as child abuse. Please read this letter with that present lens. Knowing these bills are in motion, not just in Texas but across the country, I hope it will reinforce the message here and value of small acts of love even more. Stand up – in the small and big ways – for these children. For their parents. For small acts of love.

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I set a reminder last week to write this letter about the four year anniversary of Three Ears Media. I know it’s something worth celebrating – beating the odds, building a successful company – but when I consider the things that have fundamentally altered my life, work starts to slip down the list. 

Instead, it’s moments walking into a locals bar in rural Florida to be met with stares and silence. I swear, it was like a movie. Everyone’s head turned. The music stopped and so did the chatter among the families at the long folding tables. I recognized this place. It looked just like the spots I went with my family when I was young in rural North Carolina. Except this time, I wasn’t with my family – the locals everyone knows. I was with friends who have purple hair and wear masks.

As my friend asked if the stools were open, the bartender said with disgust, “I guess.” I scanned the room and caught the stares again. The hate was palpable.

“Do you want to leave?” one of them whispered.

“Yes,” I said with certainty. “Now please.” 

A few hours later as we left a diner in a nearby town, that friend looked at me again and said “I was actually scared.” A straight, white woman, born that way at birth, who lives in North Carolina. Scared. I didn’t get the sense this was something she ever experienced before. 

I Notice Subtle Cues 

Subtle cues change lives. They end them, too. They have for hundreds of years, making people feel unsafe in this world. Not just feel, but know they are unsafe. 

I have made it a habit of noticing subtle cues. I forget some people don’t have to do that. I can’t ignore the little feeling I get that I am not welcome anymore. It’s a matter of my safety.

I say this as someone who has presented as a white straight female, a white gay female, and a white man. All identities that come with privilege no matter what room I’m in. I can not imagine the fear and panic walking into that bar may have invoked had I been a person of color or the subtle cues people experience all the time that send a violent and scary message. 

Subtle cues are the thing we do not talk about enough in America. 

I see them every day as I’m driving through the more rural parts of Florida.  They’re the things you can’t call the police on people for – wearing racist t-shirts, saying gay slurs, the physical intimidation – but they reinforce and remind us how unsafe it is to be who you are. To stand out. To simply exist outside of someone else’s vision of the majority. Outside of their definition of power.

It shines a light on why subtle cues of optimism and inclusion matter so much, too. There are so few subtle cues in this world that say “you belong” and “I love you.” Small acts of love. 

For some, it may be wearing a t-shirt to honor the memory of a life lost too soon to honor their legacy. Others are flying a Black Lives Matter flag in the background of their Zoom calls to show vs. tell people what they believe. They can be very small, tucked right beneath your name in your email signature. Yes, I’m talking about pronouns. 

I think they should be mandatory in email signatures (AFTER company-wide pronoun education) because they are one of the small subtle cues of love. They are a small sign that exists in this world of work to tell other people they are safe and that they can exist fully. All the inclusion statements in the world aren’t going to create the same impact as a small subtle cue in a world where all the others would tell you to hide.  

Look at the headlines. These children, families, are under attack. We have so much work to do, and these small acts of love can only help. (More on pronouns in email signatures here.)  

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There are subtle cues that happen in every part of the candidate experience – in the email exchanges, the phone screens, and especially the in-person interviews. But what signal are they sending if they book 4+ interviews? That’s what I wrote about in this week’s blog.

Weekly Letters

Kat Kibben View All →

Katrina (Kat) Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive, unbiased job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

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