The Most Diplomatic Way To Respond To An Offensive Comment At Work

The Most Diplomatic Way To Respond To An Offensive Comment At Work

You’re in the staff room when a coworker suddenly says something that seems to attack the core of your being. Resist the urge to fire back, and respond like this instead.

Photo Quinn Dombrowski.

When somebody says something that hits a nerve, Joan C. Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings College of Law, and Alexander Czopp, director of the Center for Cross Cultural Research at Western Washington University, highly recommend you avoid levelling any accusations. Immediately labelling something as offensive will make the other party defensive, complicating the issue. Instead, Williams and Czopp suggest you explain how their comment makes you feel first. Amy Gallo at Harvard Business Review explains:

You might say “I know it wasn’t your intent, but that made me uncomfortable” or “I’m confused by what you said.” Don’t think of this as sidestepping the issue, Czopp says. “It’s a much more effective approach that is “more likely to change their behaviour in future situations.”

Once you’ve expressed your feelings, follow up with a question. Ask them something like, “What did you mean by that?” to get a better understanding and possibly kick off a discussion about what will make you both feel comfortable in the future. It’s possible they didn’t realise they were being offensive, or they may already regret what they said, or at the very least, they may be willing to adjust their behaviour in the future. In any case, you can’t go wrong being forward about how something makes you feel, then giving them an opportunity to explain themselves. Make it a discussion, not an argument.

[referenced url=”” thumb=”” title=”How Not To Be The Coworker Everyone Hates” excerpt=”Everyone knows what it’s like to have a frustratingly dumb coworker to deal with, but what if you’re worried that the frustrating coworker is you? After all, it’s easy to point out the faults in others without taking responsibility for your own shortcomings. Let’s look at how you can make sure you’re not the one everyone in the office has to plan around instead of work effectively with.”]

How to Respond to an Offensive Comment at Work [Harvard Business Review]

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