We have all been in situations where we hear offensive remarks: either directed at us, or at others within our team or group of friends. Managing offensive remarks is something we all have to step up to at some point.
I was prompted to discuss this topic and also broadcast an episode of the podcast following a query on the Rungway App. Rungway is an App community where individuals can post queries and requests for work related advice.
Someone asked how to deal with offensive remarks being directed at one of his colleagues; did he react, with the risk of being labelled boring, or ignore it. Listen to my podcast here.
Of course, without knowing the nature of the business, it is difficult to be totally objective: there are teams where there is regular banter and everyone has a nickname. To outsiders, it might appear that there are offensive remarks, but to the people in the team, it might be a good laugh.
Except if there is someone who doesn’t like this. For example a chap in Hertfordshire who was called “Grandad” because he was 10 years older than anyone else in the company, event though he wasn’t a grandfather. He was a loyal, successful salesman for the company, yet a new regional manager undermined him with the nickname and took his most lucrative accounts. Eventually the gentleman resigned and successfully sued the company for stress: the nickname was cited as one of the reasons he was so distressed.
Occasionally offensive remarks can either be laughed off “Oh he’s only joking” or in one case I witnessed “They don’t understand”. 12 years ago I delivered a series of workshops for children funded by the Arts Council related to music. The children in the group had returned from a talk given by a very brave survivor of the Holocaust. Some of the children openly questioned the truth of the talk; something I was disgusted by. I politely told these children that not only were they telling the truth, but we should respect them for their honesty and bravery in sharing their stories. Their teacher piped up “Oh they come from difficult homes, they don’t mean it”. Only when I reported this incident to the headmaster was something done. The headmaster made the children write hand written letters to apologise and thank the speakers and also spent some time discussing offensive remarks and showing respect towards others. Listen to the podcast.
In my household I was often taught that “Sticks and stones with break your bones but words will never hurt you”. Well what rubbish that is: words and offensive remarks CAN hurt you and affect you. It is no use saying “Get a thick skin” to someone who is being verbally abused.
So what should you do? Of course I don’t know the nature of where the offensive comments are being made. If you witness offensive behaviour this is what you could do:
- Question the person who has said the remark “I find this offensive, it is an inappropriate remark”.
- Or report to your line manager
- HR should be involved: if someone’s work and occupational health is affected, it is an HR issue. So report it. This is particularly useful if you are concerned you might be targeted.
- Check the person who is the victim is okay.
Do you have any ideas of how to approach offensive remarks. Do share below; I am sure other readers would be interested in hearing your solutions. Listen to the podcast.