To Confront or Not to Confront

Tips on How to Deal with Inappropriate Workplace Behavior

We’ve all been there.  A coworker has dropped a verbal bomb and you don’t know what to do about it.  We suggest the following best practices in dealing with inappropriate and unprofessional workplace behavior.

1.  Don’t Confront:  In many cases it’s best to press the “ignore button” and walk away, especially if you’re in a group setting. Often you can simply respond with, “I hear what you’re saying,” then quickly move on. Do it without getting upset. If you fight fire with fire, you’ll surely get burned.

2.  Confront with Caution:  If you know the talker and can be fairly certain  s/he won’t blow up, bring up the remark later, away from a group setting, according to business etiquette expert Randall Hansen. “Say, ‘Maybe that topic you brought up should be kept outside the office,’’’ Hansen suggests. “He may appreciate the advice because it will save him from future embarrassment in the office or with clients.”

3.  Speak from the “I”If you’re offended and feel a strong need to respond, don’t make the speaker wrong, says business etiquette consultant Hilka Klinkenberg. “Don’t respond with, ‘How dare you say that,’ but rather, something like, ‘that comment made me feel uncomfortable,'” she says.

4.  A Bomb From AboveIf your boss or other higher-up crosses the line, the situation is trickier — you may have to weigh the options of making a point or sticking your neck out.  In fact, Randall Hansen recommends not going to Human Resources about such an incident. “Too many times a company will circle the wagons to protect a boss, even when they should want to know about the incident to prevent lawsuits and foster a better environment,” he says.  However, it is perfectly legitimate to document the incident and involve HR in case it becomes a more serious or pervasive situation. “And if you have mentors in the company who are on the boss’s level or higher, tell them and let them approach the boss,” Hansen says.

5.  Being a Good ManagerOn the other hand, if you’re in a supervisory or management position, don’t “press ignore” after hearing inappropriate comments.  You inaction puts your company at risk.  “It’s part of your responsibility to model and lead and set an example,” says Hilka Klinkenberg. “If you let remarks slide you could open yourself and the company to liability issues around harassment and discrimination. Still, you should approach the speaker with tact and without anger,” she suggests.

Lastly, foster a culture of respect and professionalism within the workplace through ongoing communication and awareness. By following these practices, you can collectively create a healthier, more inclusive, and harmonious work environment for all.

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