Harassment: Respond in Public

In the previous blog entry I promised to address the following question: as a manager, how do you appropriately address in public a behaviour which is disrespectful and possibly harassing? (The premise was that when it comes to behaviours that impact on a person’s dignity or create a poisoned work environment, what’s done in public is corrected in public).
Generally, the objectives of any intervention in public should be: a) send a clear `this is not alright’ message to both the `source’ and to the observers; b) maintain everyone’s sense of dignity and c) reduce the probability that the behaviour will repeat itself by anyone is future
To achieve these objectives, the quick and laser-like response is best.
If the problem behaviour is relatively mild, a simple comment will suffice: “George, this kind of joking is not congruent with our culture”, or: “Mary, let’s not engage in these kinds of comments; they’re not appropriate and can be hurtful”.
If the situation is more severe, a more rigorous response is called for. In this case, I recommend considering invoking the word `harassment’ or a specific mention of the Harassment Policy itself. For example: “George, this type of talk degrades people and is unacceptable here. In fact, what you’ve just said is covered under the company’s harassment policy”, or: “Mary, as an organization we expect everyone to treat each other with respect. Comments that label specific groups of people create a poisoned environment and should not be made here under any circumstances”.
In any of these interventions, keep your tone very business-like and to the point. Don’t debate the facts. Don’t sound apologetic nor humorous; both these approaches will take away from the power of your message.
Reading the above, you may have realized that following these recommendations is not as simple to implement as it may sound. There will be many internal voices inside your head telling you to take no action or to delay action or to act in private. Remember that if you listen to these voices, you are actively contributing to a poisoned work environment.

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