How do you react to an offensive statement at work?
We've all been in that situation where someone says a racist or sexist joke at work. How do you respond to that? And what should you do if that person making you uncomfortable is a colleague, or worse yet, your boss?
The Direct Approach
The best way to solve a problem is to confront it. Take the person off to the side, and speak with them in a calm, assertive manner about how the statement or action offended you. They may talk about you behind your back, but now they know it's offensive. And you may have saved someone else in the office from experiencing the effects of the offensive behavior.
Speak to HR:
If the offensive behavior has come to the point where it's now harassment (check your office policy guides to see what their definition of harassment is), tell HR. You can make complaints anonymously if you feel like the person will retaliate in some way.
The Indirect Approach
Look, a lot of work environments aren't as welcoming of an HR complaint; and you can't always confront your boss about something you feel is offensive. A great approach to combating this is to indirectly illustrate your disagreement.
The Serious, Quiet Approach: If someone is doing something offensive, keep your facial expression serious and don't say a word. Your actions will show that whatever they're doing is not funny to you and actually makes you quite angry. After they're done, quietly stand up and leave, if possible. So many people will laugh at an offensive joke just to fit in. Don't do it.
The "I Don't Get It" Approach: If someone says a really terrible joke or says something with an underlying offensive tone, play dumb. Say: "What? I don't get it?" Make them explain the underlying racist, sexist, homophobic belief that is the subject of the statement. And watch them squirm as they do it.
The "What Was That You Said Yesterday?" Approach: I've never actually done this, but it is such a great idea. Let's say someone says a joke about Hispanics to you and all your other white colleagues at work. The next time you're all gathered at the water cooler with someone who is Hispanic, ask them to repeat it. Say, "Oh man, Bill said the funniest joke yesterday. Bill, what was that joke again? I'm sure John (your Hispanic friend) would love to hear it." Wouldn't it be hilarious to see "Bill's" reaction?
Of course, some people are going to read this post and say "lighten up." But the truth is, there's a time and place for everything. I'm Hispanic, and I love to watch comedians making fun of all the stereotypes that have to do with my culture. It's funny! But that doesn't mean I have to tolerate that at work. It's a different atmosphere that must uphold a certain level of professionalism. Offensive behavior should not be tolerated in these situations.
Readers: What are your thoughts?