Co-Worker Conundrum: How To Call Out Inappropriate Behavior Without Looking Uptight

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Let me just admit this right away, I’m a conservative. It’s not even so much about politics as it is about moral values. But I work in an extremely liberal office. There are just so many offensive and unprofessional things that I hear every day. From swearing to stories about drunken nights at the bar, I just don’t believe that people should talk like that in a professional setting.

My problem is that every time I mention I’m uncomfortable with that behavior, I’m the one who ends up being embarrassed. My co-workers act like I’m just this really uptight person who isn’t happy with anything. I’m not trying to be constantly negative, but I don’t think I should have to listen to their inappropriate conversations either. Is there a way to get my point across without looking like the bad guy?

Office culture is a difficult beast to tame. Let’s just get that out there right now.

The first factor to weigh in this tricky situation is to look at the level of involvement when it comes to the offensive behavior. Basically, is this activity just happening at the lower levels, where a superior could step in and handle the situation? Or is this a company-wide issue that starts with the owners and works its way down?

Obviously, these different scenarios will significantly change how you can approach the situation.

If you weren’t worried about offending or upsetting anyone, you could always talk to human resources or your superiors about your concerns. The problem here is that even a “confidential complaint” can come back to bite you in the butt in a gossipy office. While it would be great if a couple quick words from HR could solve the problem, the truth is that this won’t always happen. Once again, culture is a difficult thing to change.

Outside from the normal strategy of reporting offenses, I think you’re going to need to find ways to relate and communicate with your co-workers if you want to make a more comfortable environment. Passive-aggressive complaints might get your point across, but they won’t ingratiate you to your peers. Confronting rude behavior with anger might be justified, but it won’t win you friends in the office.

Sometimes, the best way to solve office problems is also the most basic: talk about them. Invite an empathetic co-worker out to lunch and explain your viewpoint without being judgmental or defensive. You would be amazed how much conservatives and liberals can talk about when they both try to respect each other’s viewpoint. Steer your conversations with your co-workers to things that you can agree on, so you can communicate in a positive manner. Then leave the discussion once it turns to something that you find unprofessional. It will send a signal that you’re willing to talk to your peers, just not about certain subjects.

More than anything, we all have to understand that corporate culture is important and you  need to find a company where you feel comfortable. Sometimes, a business just isn’t the right fit. That doesn’t make either part wrong, it just makes them different.

Above all else, I have to say that if your co-workers are being truly offensive towards your race, religion, ethnicity or gender, you need to report the problem. Those aren’t issues to take lightly or brush off. And you have every right to speak up for yourself.

But if this issue is simply one of a relaxed culture that you aren’t comfortable with, I suggest trying to explain yourself and your viewpoint to individual co-workers without judgement. Don’t just into the conversation when someone has upset you and you want to shout them down. It’ll put your co-worker on the defensive. Talk to them in a positive manner away from all the drama. You would be surprised how respectful grown-ups can be, even if they have different viewpoints. Good luck.

(Photo: TruPolitics)

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    • An HR Person

      I say all of this with the caveat that no one should be subjected to a discriminatory or harassing environment based on legally protected characteristics.

      Not everyone is going to enjoy a particular office culture. That does not mean that the culture needs to change or is somehow unprofessional or wrong. It just means that it’s not a good fit for the person involved.

      If the culture at the letter writer’s place of employment is pervasive, than maybe it’s just not a good fit. That’s okay.

    • Darcy Eikenberg, ACC

      There’s another solution here–understand why the behavior bothers you. Does it rub up against some long-held assumption you have about how everyone should think or behave? Is the bothersome part that you feel embarassed? If you fully embrace your values and beliefs, why should you be embarassed at others’ opinions of them? While we can influence, inspire, and even simply mirror back behavior to others in the workplace by good conversations, we’re playing a losing game if we think we can control them or think “somebody” should. Manage your own reaction and response, and you’ll see a change immediately.

      Darcy Eikenberg, ACC
      Author, Bring Your Superpowers to Work: Your Guide to More Clarity, Confidence & Control