Your friend talks about her staff dinner party and how she was on the receiving end of a most unwelcome remark from an executive. He went around the table commenting on individual accomplishments, but his tone changed from proud to casual when he reached her. He mentioned that she was by far the best-looking one on the team. Although the comment about her stunning looks was cloaked as a compliment, it came across as an insensitive insult. With one remark, he created a perception that her extensive contribution to the team’s accomplishments were insignificant.
Many people are offended by something that does not offend you. Whatever your role and the positional power that goes along with it, if you are unaware of when and how you offend others, your lack of awareness is a major risk to the business.
You may know more than anyone else about the competition, the marketplace, the economy, and where your business fits in the big picture. But if your comments and actions diminish others who help you achieve your business strategy, then you are creating retention risks. Many a leader has packaged a put-down as praise or humor. Today’s management talent is far too valuable, too smart, and much more self-aware to be fooled by packaging.
Your intention may be benign, but it is the impact that matters most. Social and business are often mixed at holiday events and dinner meetings. Whatever you say and do reveals to others how you think. People will shape their perceptions of you and those you value based on your comments. They internalize these perceptions and add them to their interpretation of your reputation both as an individual and as a business.
Inappropriate management behavior escalates during the holidays because of an increase in client/supplier events, office parties, and staff gatherings—all instances where the lines between social and business get mixed. Add to this mix the four to five generations in the workplace and you have a potent cocktail for potential trouble. For every harassment incident, there are twenty to forty mishaps that can be dealt with using clearer thinking, communication, and behavior guidelines.
Why does this still happen?
* Few want to be the messenger bearing news that what the sender thought was perfectly okay, e.g., cool, charming, or funny, was actually inappropriate or just plain bad behavior.
* Those in sales or customer service positions risk jeopardizing their supplier/buyer relationships and could adversely affect the business they represent.
* Many have concerns that their complaint will jeopardize someone’s livelihood or reputation.
* Most people are reluctant to jeopardize their careers or offend others.
* Many do not expect workplace support based on stories of how other incidents were handled, mishandled, or ignored.
* In spite of legislation, extensive public education, and written management codes of conduct, there is still a difference between what’s understood and what’s applied.
Five Tips to handle inappropriate management behavior incidents
1. The best approach is a response at the time or as soon after the incident as possible. Receivers of unwelcome comments who can respond in a firm, tactful way will retain their self-respect. The incident needs some follow-through to the sender by someone with positional power to prevent any revenge actions and future incidents.
2. Offer development to women who are likely to find themselves confronted with unwelcome comments. As their careers grow, management talent will be expected to learn ways to push back on many kinds of situations where personal and positional boundaries will be challenged. Expectations are rising rapidly; educate them sooner.
3. Require development for senior management who are known to have outdated thinking and behaviors. Most organizations have at least one to two key people who are well known for saying or doing inappropriate things. Excuses such as claiming they don’t know the rules or thinking their monetary results exclude them won’t fly. Respect in the workplace guidelines apply to everyone in all types of workplaces and at all levels.
4. Educate people to become aware of what’s personal and what is positional and how to frame responses that keep boundary lines clear and respectful. Doing this is useful whether they are the receiver or witness an incident happening to a colleague. Equip them so that they can speak up with an immediate response.
5. All people at a business event are representing their organization in some way. It’s crucial for them to filter their behavior through a positional filter and use it to enhance professional reputations—their own and your organizations.
The worst management behavior is to pretend there is no elephant in the room. When your eyes are wide open, you begin to tally up the cost of pretending. It doesn’t take long to hit six figures.
See some of the ‘elephant in the room’ situations I have coached people through on the leadership tough calls page.
Image credits: Deposit Photos