We’ve all probably experienced that moment in the office where a coworker says something that is out of line and even offensive. Perhaps he or she has commented on the way you dress or speak. You may be wondering what the appropriate action is in this uncomfortable situation. What do you even say? Should you even respond?
Consider these tips when you are faced with such a situation:
- Think before you say anything and maintain self-control. You don’t want the situation to escalate. Take a few moments to sort through your thoughts and emotions. When you feel like you are in an appropriate state, then you can address the issue. You want to make sure you are choosing the right time and place to give your feedback. Always take the high road, and never respond with an equally offensive comment.
- Be empathetic. This may seem like the last thing you’d want to do, but it may help to try and understand where the offensive comment is coming from. While it is never okay to insult someone, the offender may be dealing with something personal and this is how they cope. Consider the saying, “Kill them with kindness.” Try and turn the tables by asking them what’s wrong and if there’s a reason for what they just said.
- Be assertive. If the person actively seeks you out, standing up to him or her will help bring attention to the issue and force him or her to face you, directly. For some, confrontation can be an uncomfortable and scary experience. But, it is necessary. Acknowledge the situation in an assertive manner and address him or her directly. Some possible ways to begin this conversation include:
- Hey—I heard you saying ____. I know you may not realize it, but what you said was offensive. I would appreciate it if you refrained from saying it in the future.
- A lot of people don’t like that you keep saying ____. Can you please stop?
- You need to stop saying _____. It’s offensive and will not be tolerated here.
- Talk to others. Sometimes, it isn’t enough to confront the offender. If something a coworker said bothered you, it is quite possible it offended others as well. Also, you may find yourself focused on the comment, rather than the work you need to do. Don’t internalize the negative thoughts. Instead, be proactive. By talking to other coworkers about the issue, you can get a second voice and decide what the next step is so you’re not alone. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone in the office, Workbravely.com is a website that connects employees with trusted experts who can give neutral, independent guidance, without needing to know about the company you work for.
Always remember, you should never feel like you have to keep working in a hostile environment. If the problem persists, you may need to take more serious actions, such as speaking to HR or a supervisor. Make sure you are truthful and accurately detail the events that led up to the comment.