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End Offensive Comments from a Co-worker with Critical Conversation Skills

When a co-worker makes offensive comments, it can make the workplace uncomfortable. Critical conversation skills can help eliminate offensive comments from the workplace. Critical conversations allow you and your co-worker to find a solution that you can both live with.

Even in the most professional workplaces, employees can tell jokes or make rude comments that cross the line from bad taste and poor judgment to offensive behavior that could be seen as harassment. Stop the offensive behavior before it gets to the level of a legal complaint by applying your critical conversation skills.

What is an offensive behavior? Offensive comments in the workplace include (but aren’t limited to) name-calling, swearing, gossiping, and being argumentative with the sole intention of starting an argument.

Whatever the offensive comments, the tactics shown in the following example can help put an end to them.

Adam, the offensive employee: “Hey, Little Miss, how was that board meeting last week?”

“Little Miss” Linda: “Adam, I’m happy we’re good colleagues and team members. However, referring to me as ‘Little Miss’ makes me feel like we don’t have mutual respect for one another, and I feel it’s condescending. I’d like to ask you to call me by my name so we can remain professional and respectful. Can you begin calling me by my first name?”

Adam: “I didn’t realize you were offended by the comment. I thought I was being cute. I will use your name from now on.”

Linda: “Thanks for understanding.”

Linda followed the components of critical conversations perfectly. First, she examined the situation by starting with how she felt (“Referring to me as ‘Little Miss’ makes me feel like we don’t have mutual respect”).

Second, she helped direct a decision that could resolve the conflict (“I’d like to ask you to call me by my name so we can remain professional and respectful”). And third, she asked whether her colleague could support the recommendation she made as they gained agreement to move forward (“Can you begin calling me by my first name?”).

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