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  • Writer's pictureRobin Rosenberg

Navigating Inappropriate Co-Worker Comments

This month, we’re focusing our blog post on how to navigate colleague’s comments that seem inappropriate or disrespectful.

What is the line that office banter should never cross?

To express contempt toward a colleague, customer, or business partner. Contempt can be expressed verbally, such as “you are _______” where the thought is completed with something negative about the person such as stupid, a jerk, too sensitive, insensitive, rather than disagreeing about a viewpoint or a behavior. Contempt can also be expressed non-verbally by a sneer, literally turning away, or ignoring the person. Such actions can create “cuts” that never heal.

What do you say or do if a co-worker crosses that line?

Let the person know how you viewed their words or deeds (that is, how you interpreted the actions) and its impact on you, and why). Then ask whether that impact is what they intended. If not, ask them to clarify what they meant to say. It can also be useful to ask them if they understand how it impacted you the way it did—to have a window into their capacity to see things from another person’s point of view. It may be necessary to talk about whether there are topics that the two of you are best off not discussing going forward if it isn’t work related.

How do you handle cultural clashes or miscommunication in conversation?

Same as above—let the person know how you interpreted what they said, why it impacted you negatively, and ask for clarification. It may be best if the two of you take more care in the language you use with each other to avoid miscommunications or clashes going forward. As the two of you discover how the clash or miscommunication happened and how to address it, the two of you can learn from each other and increase trust in each other.

When and how should you elevate persistent problems with a co-worker’s comments?

It would be appropriate to elevate things when, despite persistent conversations about why you continue to be negatively affected by things the co-worker says and the co-worker does not appear to be open to changing his or her words or actions that you’ve flagged. In other words, despite repeated discussions, the person doesn’t not appear willing to try to be more respectful to you. Before elevating things, though, it’s a good idea to document the types of comments, the conversations you’ve had with that co-worker (to no avail, apparently), and the dates to demonstrate the frequency of the comments and your attempts to improve things.

How can you turn awkward conversations around to promote office harmony and respect?

Even if you feel disrespected, responding respectfully to the other person is important. View the situation as a learning opportunity and invite the other person to do the same—how you can each learn from each other how to communicate better, or if the conversation is about a difference of opinions, agree to disagree.


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