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Strangers in the Day, Exchanging Glances…

If, like me, you are a Sinatra fan, this heading probably got you humming his classic Strangers in the Night, pondering all the possibilities inherent in that exciting first exchange of glances with a stranger.

Well, as it turns out, a total stranger looking us in the eye (or not) can have a profound effect on how we feel. In a previous series I discussed the effects of a simple eye rolling gesture on the person at the receiving end of that gesture. It is no different than if someone dropped a hammer on their finger — the brain’s pain centre gets fired up. And if you’ve attended any of our sessions or followed this blog for a while, you already know that in the workplace, seemingly inconsequential behaviours such as ignoring someone by, say, not saying or responding to a hello, actually does matter.

But what happens when a complete stranger looks at you as if you were thin air?

This is what one of my favourite researchers, Prof. Kipling Williams of Purdue University and some of his ostracism-focused collaborators asked themselves. In yet another of their mischievous and illuminating studies, they had a research assistant walk along a well-populated path on a university campus, pick an unsuspecting passerby, and then do one of three things as they walked toward this person: they met that person’s eyes, or met their eyes and smiled, or looked in the direction of the person’s eye level but focused their gaze past the person’s ear, looking at them as if they were thin air. A second experimenter then stopped the person and asked, “Within the last minute, how disconnected do you feel from others?”

And what did they find? They discovered that acknowledgement through looking someone in the eye matters, and that this is true regardless of whether it is accompanied by a smile or not. Those who received eye contact — with or without a smile — felt less disconnected than those who were looked at as if they weren’t there. It may have had only a fleeting, momentary effect, but the impact was certainly there. After all, being ignored is the first step in what our reptile brain understands as a very real risk . . . social exclusion is the first step to ostracizing us and removing us from the community, something that in ancient times meant that we would be left to die on our own as a result of being denied access to the resources and protection that community living provides.

Thin-air glances on a university campus path are, in the grand scheme of things, not really that important. But random, fleeting encounters sometimes do in fact impact us profoundly, in positive or negative and often unexpected ways. (On the positive side of the equation, I love the video below.)

But the workplace is another matter altogether. Here the stakes are much higher. The workplace is a community of humans, and as such it is inevitably a place where the internal dramas of our needs for connection and belonging play out and where our sense of self and worth gets affirmed — or battered — daily. A look, a smile, an acknowledgement, can make a world of difference. And the absence of these can be upsetting and in some cases even devastating.

So here’s my question to you: what difference can you make to others’ experience? In what ways are you willing to step up to the plate (starting with the person in the desk right beside yours) to make a positive difference?



As always, contact me directly if you’d like to make your work environment more civil.

And for those who are off for summer holidays, have a great time, AND I hope you won’t miss our July 7th blog post, where I will be sharing exciting news with you!




Witty, Funny…or Plain Old Hurtful?

I think the universe is trying to send me a message.

Lately I have facilitated an unusual number of sessions where participants offer feisty opposition to my listing of sarcasm as a behavioural example of workplace incivility. Some even say “I have a sarcastic personality, and I have no intention of changing.” One of the key justifications I hear is that, as they see it, the intense pressures of work in their arena require some sort of outlet. I’ve heard it in hospitals, in customer service centres, social service organizations and the legal community, to name a few.

I see folks making sarcastic comments directly to a colleague, or about other colleagues behind their back. And I hear it in the way that people refer to their clients, patients and customers. It’s everywhere.

The intensity of these recent experiences led me to decide that it’s now time for me to come out with a strong opinion on this matter. It is my sincere hope that this will be useful as you think through your own position.

Sarcasm Does HurtFirst, what exactly is sarcasm?

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, sarcasm refers to “The use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say, especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny,” and “A sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain.” (Sarcasm is different from irony, which is devoid of the pain element.)

I find myself befuddled. How did we shift away from viewing sarcasm for what it mostly is — an insult or pain-causing activity — and begin to view it as a legitimate form of dealing with fellow human beings in the workplace?

Here are some contributing factors (a partial list):

  1. Workplace attitudes are influenced by larger societal forces. For example, sarcasm is a dominant and accepted form of humour in sitcoms, comedy, and social media. It has become associated with wittiness, cleverness and fun. Its darker sides have become obscure.
  2. In many lines of business people perceive their organization or sector to be “unique” and involving a high degree of pressure. They feel entitled to release the pressure in whatever form feels good in the moment, and sarcasm is viewed a legitimate defence mechanism. (I have heard the “unique” reason in almost every session lately.)
  3. Managers don’t hold people accountable because they are oblivious to the damage that sarcasm inflicts on individuals and the team culture.
  4. Managers don’t know how to deal with it.
  5. Managers are sometimes the worst “offenders.”
  6. Colleagues don’t know how to react constructively—it is exceedingly difficult to respond to a communication where the negativity of the message is delivered mostly through tone and body language. So instead they do nothing, or withdraw, or get even or (worst of all) adopt the same behaviour.

So, my friends, here’s a piece of utterly unsolicited advice you may not want to hear: Cut it out.

I mean it.

Simply decide that you are never going to be sarcastic about anyone or anything, and then go ahead and live your decision from here on out.

Sarcasm not only sticks a knife right into the receiver’s heart (even if you tell yourself it’s not so and even if they’re not even there). If you think it makes you look good, it actually doesn’t — it’s just that other people don’t have the courage to tell you that. And finally, it also contaminates you from the insides.

Some years ago I made the decision to eliminate sarcasm from my personal repertoire of behaviours. It has been an amazing gift to me, on many fronts. Please accept this invitation to join me on this journey.

Let’s explore what the universe has in stock for us.

And, if you really think about it, what have you got to lose?


Contact me directly if you want to commit to omitting sarcasm from your own discourse so I can personally congratulate you.

And, of course, if you’d like to make your work environment more civil, we’re here to help.

It’s Time for People to Get Thicker Skins (Or Is it)

Monique, a bright-eyed young employee, approaches her manager regarding George, who works in the cubicle beside hers. A veteran employee, George is a bit rough around the edges. Monique complains about his inappropriate jokes, the sarcastic comments, the banter at others’ expense. Hearing his interactions from her cubicle, she finds
 it hard to concentrate. She is uncomfortable dealing with the situation herself and is requesting that something be done.

Managers faced with such complaints typically provide some variation of the following answer: “Sorry, Monique, we can’t change someone’s personality. The best solution is for you to develop a thicker skin.”

(And here’s a not-so-big secret: Inside his or her head, the manager is usually thinking, You’ve gotta be kidding! Just grow up, suck it up and get back to work!)

I’ve written here before about how underlying beliefs can sink ships. The thicker-skin belief is yet another lethal (and misguided) one. It implies that it is the responsibility of the person on the receiving end to ignore, accept or even embrace colleagues’ uncivil conduct. This belief renders everyone (including the manager) blind or indifferent to uncivil behaviour.

I hear the thicker-skin idea when I am called to help turn around the behaviour of abrasive managers. People who are struggling with such a boss are often told (in nicer terms) to suck it up and move on. It’s part of a set of common myths that enable abrasive behaviour. For those of you who live in Canada, the recent scandal surrounding star radio host Jian Ghomeshi is a classic and sad example of alarm bells not going off because of deep seated beliefs that immunize star hosts from being accountable for bad behaviour.

I also hear the people-need-to-get-a-thicker-skin notion often from folks who have been in the workforce for many years and believe that the workplace has—and will always be—a battlefield where one is bound to encounter inappropriate behaviours of all sorts. In this war zone, one needs to fend for oneself, which includes developing selective deafness and blindness (and of course, some savvy combat strategies to boot).  It’s that old “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

Ah, yes, the good ol’ times. Prior to the development of anti-harassment legislation, women and members of minority groups survived many an insult by developing very useful “thicker skins”. However, whether you like it or not, the pendulum is moving well away from people having to fend for themselves. Nowadays employers are increasingly accountable for creating psychologically safe workplaces where people can perform at their best. When Monique can’t concentrate because of George’s inappropriate behaviour, the employer has an obligation to act.

My suggestion? Let’s create workplaces that make people of all skin thickness feel comfortable and safe. By the way, it’s good for business too. Other good things will flow: productivity, engagement, retention, attentive customer service, and innovation.


Don’t hesitate to contact me directly for any help to make your work environment more civil.

And a little update: The new Respect-on-the-Go toolkits and the Team Civility Boosters can now be accessed directly from our website’s home page. As the proud “mama” of these newborns, I am thrilled to report that more than 1,200 have already been purchased and they are receiving a tremendously enthusiastic reception.

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A COUPLE OF DAYS after this blog was posted, I received the following email from a female executive who manages a group of several hundred people (quoted with permission):

Dear Sharone,

Great perspective! In my 20 years working in one of the best organizations in Canada that has won many important awards, I never witnessed inappropriate comments about any ethnic groups….. except French-speaking people. As a Francophone, I quickly realized that for English speaking Canadians, French people are simply not considered ‘an ethnic group’. With time, I learned to dismiss comments that were made to me and not take offence to them. I often remember the day I attended your harassment session several years ago very fondly because it was the start of my personal healing. When I came back from the bathroom (where I had escaped in a highly emotional state when the conversation got to “thicker skins”) you spoke of incivility. You had given a name to what I was experiencing and by that simple fact I felt I could start getting my confidence back. I too often still see jokes or satires made on the accounts of French people. I am still hopeful that this behaviour will change in the near future.  


Why Do Chronically Uncivil Employees Endure?


The single biggest reason why chronically uncivil employees continue to work in your organization is that management had for years allowed the problem behaviour to continue without meaningful consequences. Had management taken action when the bad behaviour first appeared (and that was likely many moons ago), these folks would by now be wonderfully civil contributors, or they would be working for an altogether different employer.

Instead of nipping the behavior in the bud, management (and please accept my apology if this includes you) engaged in a series of actions that were utterly ineffective or, at best, only partially successful, or they took no action at all. Typical leaders’ mistakes include bad modelling, slow reaction, fear of taking a stand, favouring the intent of the offending person over the impact it has on others, taking the wrong action, or mishandling complaints. Top that off with performance appraisals that contain no mention of the problematic behaviours, and you’ve got full-blown management culpability on your hands.

As they do so, leaders are inadvertently leaving everyone else on the team to fend for themselves or suffer through years of having to deal with the disagreeable person using (much more than) fifty shades of grey. And by the way, by not addressing the situation early and competently, they are being unfair to the uncivil person too: rather than offering opportunities to self-correct and do better, they are setting this person up for failure.

And if you ask how I can be so sure that management has committed so many missteps, my answer is simple: the proof is in the pudding. The only reason that chronically uncivil employees can keep their job while also behaving miserably is because they are allowed to do so.

If you are in a leadership position, you might right now be extremely frustrated with me. I can hear you saying that I really don’t understand your reality. You might, for example, say that it is impossible to fire anyone in your organization because you have an all-powerful union, or that you have been doing performance management with this person forever and are getting nowhere with what seems to be an unsolvable situation. And you would probably add that these situations are exceedingly challenging to diagnose in the first place.

And my response is that as much as my heart goes out to you, I still believe that it can be done, even in difficult circumstances. Where there is a will, there is a way. Where management is convinced that it is responsible for providing everyone with a respectful work environment where they can perform at their best, it will find a way to do it.


Contact me anytime, or check out our new Respect-on-the-Go toolkits and Team civility Boosters by clicking HERE

* The above is an adapted excerpt from my upcoming book (now in final proofreading stages): Trust Your Canary—Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility.

Is Your Email Writing Style Putting You at Risk?

iStock Email Symbol Hanging from Hook_000038737958A few days ago I received a somewhat terse email inquiry about our REAL Program for Abrasive Leaders. The woman who wrote it stated that she has been told that she is an abrasive leader and would like to take steps to rectify this. Over a couple of email exchanges I was not surprised to find that her messages were extremely short and to the point, with no acknowledgement or thank-yous for the detailed information I provided and no salutation or sign-off at the end. One email started with a “hi”, and the other one with no opening at all.

For reasons that I won’t go into here, it became clear that we would not be working together, so I decided to offer some unsolicited advice that I thought might be helpful: I mentioned that for my clients who are perceived as abrasive, their email writing style often contributes to the negative perceptions about them. I then invited her to review the emails she had written to me and ask herself how someone who reported to her would react when receiving messages in a similar style.

She responded immediately, posing a great question. So great, in fact, that I obtained her permission to write a blog post about it. Her question was:

“I was always told to keep emails specific and to the point. Should I not be doing that anymore? My work emails always end with thank you.”

And therein lies the dilemma that often gets my clients (and maybe you too?) into trouble: should you sacrifice the niceties in the service of efficiency and speed?

True, brief emails are great — they save time and get business done. And hey, who really needs all those thank-you-for-this and thank-you-for-that, or the have-a-good-weekend, or good-morning, or finally-a-bit-of-nice-weather or nice-salutation time wasters?

But if you are a manager, cutting all those out places you at a high risk of being perceived as abrasive. (This is equally true if you are not a manager, but the potential price you might pay is typically not as high.) When you are in a position of institutional power, people automatically watch you more closely. The absence of kindness or appreciation where a reasonable person would expect those will naturally lead to conclusions about you: you will be perceived as rude, harsh, unappreciative or dismissive. And unless you are exceptionally kind in your other practices, your email style will have a cumulative boomerang effect.

And by the way, habitually ending with a “thank you” doesn’t really cut it. People will view this as a rote and meaningless gesture. In fact, over time, it might become yet another strike against you (Can you hear the “oh yeah, he can’t even bother writing a personal thank-you, so now he has an auto-signature that does it for him”?) 

Before you know it, you’re labeled as the big bad bully boss. Now let’s see you work your way out of that hole.

So in your next email, just before you hit the Send button, ask yourself:

Am I inadvertently coming across as overly curt, detached, inconsiderate, abrasive or dismissive? And what do I need to add, change or delete in order to convey my human-ness?

As you know, I’m on your side and trying to keep you out of unnecessary trouble. In that vein, in an upcoming blog post I will discuss some of the variables you should consider if you want your emails to work for you rather than against you.


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Contact us anytime — I love hearing from you!

And take a look at the new Trust Your Canary civility accelerating tools HERE. (Access to this page will be soon available from our main home page.)

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After posting the above a few hours ago, I received the below wonderful email from one of you. I thought it’s worth sharing, for the benefit of any or all of you who are still optimistic about the integration of young folks into the workplace, worldwide. 

Dear Sharone,

I shared your note with a daughter of a good friend of mine, who started working in a big company in Sri Lanka just a couple of weeks ago. She is 23 years old and a recent graduate.

Almost immediately after I forwarded your note to her, I received the following reply from her. I was very pleased to note its contents and thought of sharing with you (of course with her permission).

“Dear aunty, thank you very much for sending me that article…It is just what I needed to hear at the moment! Since I joined this company I’ve been very cordial with my email writing. But after sometime I’ve started to wonder whether I’m just wasting my time adding all those polite words or whether others may perceive me as a time waster who got nothing much to do….But this article was an eye opener!!! Now I know there’s nothing wrong being polite. So thanks a bunch for sharing it with me. I love to read such articles which help me to improve myself…”

Why Civility Matters in the First Place

Negatives Positives Computer Keys Showing Plus And Minus Alternatives Analysis And Decisions
Over the years, you’ve been reading lots about workplace incivility in this blog. So, for a change, let’s pause to reflect on why civility matters in the first place.

Consider the game of curling, where a stone has to make its way safely into a target area over a sheet of smooth ice. Two team members sweep the ice to allow the stone to move smoothly to its destination.

Civility is the smooth ice that enables people to perform at their best, leading to best results for the team, the organization, and those who it serves. (If you’re a manager, think of yourself as the sweeper whose job it is to ensure the path is clear.)

Here are some of the ways—a partial list—that civility supports organizational and team success:

  1. Performance. People who are treated with respect are able to focus. Their mind is not bogged down by worry, their brain is not flooded with memory-impeding stress hormones, and their time is not spent on second-guessing whether or not the uncivil person intended to belittle or dismiss them. With focus, they perform at their best.
  2. Trust and teamwork. Respectful relationships yield trust, and trust in return makes people support each other, collaborate, hold themselves and one another accountable, be flexible, lend a helping hand, deal effectively with interpersonal problems, and work together toward shared goals.
  3. Customer service. The focus, trust and teamwork that civility brings about result in effective, smooth and cheerful service.
  4. Engagement and retention. Employees who feel that the organization treats them with respect and that its managers are actively ensuring that everyone is dealt with in a civil manner are highly invested in the success of the enterprise. They are less likely to depart prematurely.
  5. Innovation. Innovation relies on people’s sense of safety and trust. A civil work environment creates a milieu where new (and possibly unconventional) ideas can be shared and explored without fear.
  6. Health and safety. A civil work environment is a psychologically safe one. In a world of ever-growing rates of mental health illness on the job, a civil environment prevents the triggering or exacerbation of mental health problems (and the associated high levels of absenteeism and benefits costs). Furthermore, focused and calm employees are much less likely to engage in hazardous behaviour or be involved in workplace accidents.

The advantages of upholding a civil work environment are almost common sense. And yet—have you noticed?—incivility continues to exist uninterrupted in most organizations.


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I like to keep my promises. I promised last time to keep you posted on news regarding our new civility accelerating tools. . . you can now take a sneak preview by clicking HERE. They are available at a time-limited launch price. Contact us anytime to talk about how these products can help transform your environment. 

Roll Out the Roles


Sometimes the root cause of a chronic incivility problem is not necessarily what one would expect.

Lack of role clarity is a surprisingly common (and usually overlooked) trigger of workplace incivility. When you are unclear where your role begins and ends in relation to that of your colleague, resentments and negative perceptions emerge. All too often at Bar-David Consulting we have been called in to assist with conflict resolution or workplace incivility issues, only to discover that the problems are rooted in confusion about roles.

Here’s how it works: Francesca needs to include information about, say, customer complaints in her monthly report to her supervisor. She believes that Nick is responsible for bringing this information to her attention (that’s how it used to work for years with Al, Nick’s predecessor). Nick, on the other hand, legitimately believes that it is Francesca’s job to send him a reminder close to the end of the month.

When Nick fails to supply her with the information and the month is about to end, Francesca gets upset. She discusses this with a couple of colleagues. (She refers to it as “venting” but if you were there listening as a fly on the wall, you would know that it sounds much more like “gossip” which in itself is uncivil.) She then approaches Nick with a request to provide the information. Her tone is — you guessed it! — irritated and impatient.

The perceived uncivil manner in which Francesca approaches him upsets Nick. He feels belittled and goes right into Velcro-land. He provides Francesca with the information and adds a snarky comment, just to even out those imaginary justice ledgers. They both leave the interaction mad and wanting to get even. Francesca rushes to seek further collegial support through a bit of healthy venting.

The next time around, both Francesca and Nick enter the interaction in a state of agitation and ready for war. More incivility ensues, and now more people are brought into the fold through gossip and observation of the dynamics at play. Before long, Francesca and Nick are no longer on speaking terms. When they need to communicate with each other, they do so by using sticky notes.

By the way, if you’re wondering where the manager is in all this—that indeed is the 64-million dollar question! Had the manager been more observant and proactive, things would not have come to this.

So, what’s the solution?

Whether you are a manager dealing with problems on the team or if you are the person suffering from tension and frustration with a colleague, begin by ensuring that roles are clearly defined. Consider asking questions such as:

“Help me understand: when this type of process happens, what is your understanding of who is responsible for what? What exactly are you responsible for? What do you think your colleague’s part is? Are there overlaps? Do you have a really clear understanding of what everyone’s deliverables are on this?”

As childish as it may sound, territory is important to us adults. Territorial wars often stem from minor misunderstandings that add up to a big deal — a molehill becomes an overwhelming mountain.

My suggestion is: don’t let it happen to you, or around you. Clarify roles, then figure it out from there.


Exciting news! We’re launching amazing new civility boosting products, available now at a time-limited launch price. Contact me anytime to talk about how these products can help transform your team and organization. And, a bonus—as a loyal blog subscriber, you will benefit from further discount.  (Stay tuned for more info in the weeks ahead.) 


Three Things to Do in 2015

Happy New Year!

To make it a great year for you and those around you, do any or all of the following:

  1. Make their day. Do one thing every day (why not?) to make someone feel better, brighter, lighter. People lead complex lives filled with worry, fear, and the stress of the everyday grind. You can make a difference by doing simple things like offering to take on a task for a colleague, telling coworkers how much you enjoy working with them, writing a compliment to their supervisor, or thanking them publicly for a contribution they might take for granted. Bring a coffee or pay for theirs. Making someone’s day will have an especially positive impact if you do something that has the elements of surprise and delight.
  2. iStock new Year 2015 000041744644LargeQuestion your thoughts. When you find your mind roaming into judgmental or negative thinking (“he should be more helpful,” “the company doesn’t care about us”), meditate on this question: is it true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true? Train yourself to arrive at a simple “yes” or “no.” Landing on a yes or no will be exceedingly challenging because your mind will be frenetically offering justifications — “buts” and “depends” and other tricks that prevent you from seeing things differently. Your mind will want to keep you locked in the self-righteous or victim position. Meditate on the question. Ponder it with candour.

    Having just returned from yet another transformative event with Byron Katie in California, I unequivocally recommend using these deceptively simple questions to set you free this year.
  3. Be a shining light of respect and civility. When you are grumpy, those who interact with you suffer. Or they become reactive. Or their mental health issues are exacerbated. Civility and respect have been identified as key components to mental health in the workplace in the new National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. So why not be the one who contributes to improving the mental health of others (and yourself) rather than damaging it?


If your team or organization needs help  or you want to otherwise stay in touch, contact us anytime.

Feeling Rejected? Take Tylenol

iStock rejected image 000016794834LargeCan pain medication help when you’re feeling rejected, left out, or ostracized?

I know, I know — at first blush, this idea sounds far-fetched, even ridiculous. But bear with me for a moment and consider this: rejection hurts. It really does. Research by Professor Kip Williams and others continuously demonstrates that social rejection activates the same brain regions that are involved in physical pain (check out this previous blog post — Eye Rolling: A Health Hazard?). Even marginal ostracizing experiences with strangers trigger this reaction, if only briefly. This response is detected in functional MRI scans, in the same way that physical pain shows up in these images.

So if rejection fires up the brain’s pain centres, then the question arises: Can you diminish feelings of rejection by taking a painkiller?

In yet another fun addition to the body of research in the field of social ostracism, a group of researchers set out to find the answer to this exact question.

Here’s what they did: They gave a group of folks over-the-counter Tylenol daily for three weeks, while another group received a placebo. They then explored the extent to which each group experienced social pain on a daily basis.

And here’s the fun part: those who received the Tylenol reported less social pain than the placebo group. Furthermore, the researchers followed previous studies that used fMRI machines to trace brain activity when people play Cyberball, an online game that Dr. Williams developed. In this game, a study subject takes part in an online toss-ball activity with two imaginary players who, after several throws, stop tossing the ball to the study’s subject, thereby creating a rejection experience.

What they found (surprise!) was that for those who received the painkillers, activity in the parts of the brain that respond to pain was reduced, even when subjected to rejection during Cyberball.

So what does all this mean? I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions, but here are a few questions to ponder:

  • When you experience the pain of being rejected, excluded, or belittled, what can you do to get out of your Velcro state and move on constructively? What is your personal Tylenol-type remedy and how can you use it more effectively?
  • How and when do you create rejection experiences for others, even in very small ways? How can you minimize doing this?

And last but not least, make sure to have a Tylenol handy, just in case!


Contact us anytime — I always love hearing from you!

Oh Canada, What Happened to Your Smoke Detectors

Canadian Pariament (Free)Living in Canada, our daily news diet of late consisted of mindboggling sexual harassment and assault allegations against a public broadcaster’s radio star, topped only by allegations of sexual harassment by and against members of parliament and a discovery that our esteemed legislature is a place where anything goes.

Amongst the many common themes in these two situations, here are two shared Achilles heal issues:

1.  There were no carbon monoxide detectors or the detectors that were installed were malfunctioning. We all know that you need to have a carbon monoxide detector to alert you of dangers that you might not be able to see, hear or smell. In the same way, organizations require tools to help prevent and surface harassment issues. These come in the form of strong organizational values, solid harassment policies, and a respectful culture that deters harassing behaviours.

Unfortunately, the carbon monoxide detectors in these two cases fell short. Canadians to their horror discovered that the nation’s leading institution (the very one that crafts all those great laws about human rights, diversity and equality) does not even have a harassment policy, let alone known procedures for complaints or ensuring due process. In other words, no carbon monoxide detector was installed in the first place. In the case of CBC’s anchor Jian Ghomeshi, information revealed thus far suggests that despite reports that he reigned with an abrasive style (now described by the CBC’s executive vice President as “difficult to deal with, demanding, volatile, moody, people felt under a lot of pressure“), only minimal action was taken to fix things. Complaints were reportedly suppressed at lower levels and the organizational values were not sufficiently known nor lived. In other words, carbon monoxide detectors were in place, but they malfunctioned.

2. When the carbon detectors sounded the alarm, no one took action (or they took the wrong action.) The whole point of having a carbon monoxide detector is to enable you to take decisive action once the alarm sounds. In both cases here, the alarm sounded but people did nothing, or they froze, or they took action that did not reflect the gravity of the situation.

On Parliament Hill, as we now know, if you were an attractive newcomer (male or female, heterosexual or gay, assistant or Parliamentarian) with little power on the totem pole, you could expect to be harassed or even assaulted. According to Sheila Copps, former deputy prime minister who just came out with her own personal revelation of assault, alleged offenders were long-standing MP’s, officers of Parliament and even the Speaker. Even in the absence of official detection mechanisms in the form of proper policies, all those bystanders and decision makers did possess internal alarm detectors (what I refer to as inner canaries) that alerted them when the lines between decency and indecency have been crossed. Yet they did nothing or little to change the culture or to attend decisively to individual cases. And back at the CBC, the program’s executive producer allegedly heard complaints of all sorts. However observations and complaints about the program’s culture and the host’s behaviours were allegedly mishandled, or dealt with half-heartedetdly or in a futile fashion. In both cases, the carbon monoxide detector was squealing but people were allowed to remain in the danger zone.

So what leads to such blindness, deafness, freezing and misguided action? It’s all about the underlying beliefs that decision makers and others on the ground hold, beliefs that skew how they view reality. Here’s a sampling of blinding beliefs that may have led things to where they are today:

  1. This person is an important player – an indispensable star of some sort. We can’t touch him or her.
  2. This has always been the culture here. It will never change.
  3. This is so outrageous, I just can’t believe it could be actually true.
  4. It’s complicated. There’s always two sides to the story.
  5. The workplace isn’t for sissies. People need to learn to fend for themselves.
  6. If we take action, it could backfire.

In the early days of this blog, back in 2007, I warned about seven harassment-related mistakes leaders make. It now appears that every one of those mistakes has been committed by Parliament and at the CBC. I invite you to check these out and possibly ponder how they are relevant to you – personally or organizationally:

As an organization, what do you need to do to have reliable carbon monoxide detectors in place and have the ability to act when and if they sound the alarm?

  1. Develop meaningful organizational values – make sure “respect” is one of them – and build them into your organizational DNA.
  2. Ensure your managers are versed in the organizational values and know how to implement these in all that they do or oversee. Put in place strong respectful workplace policies.
  3. Train people on the policies and the ideas behind them (it’s not enough to have people sign off that they’ve read them, and none of that cover-your-backside training where people are bored out of their mind and leave the session totally unaffected.)
  4. Require managers to model the desired behaviours.
  5. Adopt a philosophy of taking action even on seemingly small problems – fixing broken windows swiftly minimizes the chances of bad behaviours in your neighborhood.
  6. Take complaints seriously, act immediately.
  7. Evaluate people’s conduct, decisions and performance in relation to all the above.

I predict a vast change in our landscape –  nothing will be the same in Canada post-Ghomsehi and Parliament Hill. Organizations will be required to demonstrate due diligence and accountability like never before. Let’s make sure we turn this moment into a change we all can be proud of for generations to come.

The time to act is now and at Bar-David Consulting we are committed to helping you. If you wish to prevent or deal with harassment and incivility in your organization, please do not hesitate to contact us anytime, or check out how our services can be helpful.


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