If You’re Not Sure It’s Okay to Say, Should You Say It?

An organizational client asked me to provide feedback on the following clause in their Harassment Policy:

”If you’re about to make a comment and you’re not sure whether it is unwelcome, ask if it’s okay.”

Well, here’s what I advised my client: remove this clause ASAP. All it does is allow people to engage in all kinds of offensive behaviours, as long as there’s no one around that is offended by them.

In fact, creating a respectful workplace means that people need to refrain from offensive behaviours even if there is no ‘apparent victim’. That way, everyone can feel comfortable anytime, everywhere. As laws get changed in various jurisdictions, employers are increasingly required to provide a psychologically safe workplace for all.

So instead, I suggested replacing the original problematic clause with:

”If you’re about to make a comment and you’re not sure whether it is unwelcome, refrain altogether from saying it”.

 Discussion Questions

In your team, consider the following questions:

  1. How does the idea of, ”If you’re about to make a comment and you’re not sure whether it is unwelcome, refrain from saying it” relate to our organizational values and culture?
  2. In our environment, are there any comments and behaviours that we have come to accept as ‘natural’ and which we may want to reconsider and possibly refrain from engaging in? What specifically are they?
  3. What are the factors that led us to view these behaviours and comments as acceptable?
  4. If we chose to refrain from those comments and behaviours, what impact will that have on each of us individually? On our team? On our work? On other aspects?
  5. Are we willing to make the necessary changes to move toward the above direction? If so, what is one (to two, or three) steps we are willing to take in the next month?

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