Editor's note: Evan P. Apfelbaum is an Assistant Professor of Organizational Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management. His research has been featured in journals including Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, and Developmental Psychology and has been covered by a range of media outlets, including The New York Times, BBC, and National Public Radio.
By Evan P. Apfelbaum, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Larry, one of the employees you supervise, hasn't been performing his job up to expectations. But you've been reluctant to take him aside and speak with him candidly: Like most senior people in the company, you are white. What if Larry, who is black, takes your criticism the wrong way or, worse, thinks you are racist?
The last thing you want is for others to think your actions were influenced by race. So you've held off talking to him about performance issues that you'd likely have raised with your non-minority employees. You're relieved that a potentially thorny situation was averted, even pleased with your capacity to be so racially sensitive.
But in fact, recent research suggests, you have not done your company, your employee, or yourself much good. However well-intentioned, striving to create the appearance of colorblindness by sidestepping the specter of race can be more of an obstacle than an asset to good management practice.