I often hear individuals in the workplace say: “It’s just the way he is”, or “That’s just the way she talks …it’s really no big deal.”  Better to ignore the raised voice, the dismissive tone, the undercurrent of blame, the swearing, the silent treatment, right? “I mean what else can I do?”

The bad behaviours go on until the person on the receiving end breaks down, explodes or retreats into his or her shell. Over the years I’ve seen entire offices tiptoe around one temperamental individual. How is this “no big deal” if everyone is walking on eggshells?

In my own life, I’ve sometimes put off what I expected to be an ugly face off with someone whose behaviours are inappropriate. This is even more challenging if that person is someone I interact with every day.

But is it really no big deal if my step slows down when I am about to encounter that person? Should I make myself more invisible so I can be less of a target? Is it inconsequential if apprehension dampers my enthusiasm for going into a meeting or has me approaching a task with gloom? As the old saying goes: My home is your home! We have to co-exist as harmoniously as possible.

My clients are sometimes very creative in making excuses for that badly behaved individual. He has good intentions. Her storms don’t last long. He’s stressed out right now. She’s trying to prove herself.

Dare I say you matter? And if another person’s behaviour in the workplace is unacceptable, there is no reason to put up with it.

Each of us has his or her own motivation for staying silent, and it’s not really up to others to judge whether these motivations are valid. What we can do, however, is support each other in finding and enacting ways of breaking the silence.

Here are practices I have seen succeed:

  • Rehearse with her the direct conversation she is planning to have with the offending individual and be ready to stand by her.
  • Involve him in other projects where he can build confidence in his abilities. Successes in other areas can help an individual grow in assertiveness until he can speak up in defense of his ideas.
  • Remove the disrespectful person from the team. Have he or she work with a senior person or team of peers who can help this individual grow in self-awareness, modify his or her behaviours or deal with the consequences.

There are also key steps to having conversations with individuals who challenge you.  These I’ve learned from trial and error, and from wise teachers! I’m very much looking forward to sharing those important steps with you. For now, remember the most important first step: your presence and your contribution matter!  Until next week.

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