People I encounter in my business world are both appalled by and tired of hearing about sexual harassment in the workplace. These aren’t mutually exclusive reactions.
Companies are running out to obtain “sexual harassment” training for their employees. Sexual harassment training has been around for quite some time. It has been around so long that it has developed a negative connotation or become the butt of office jokes. It would seem, in light of recent events, to be somewhat ineffective in preventing the precise behavior it is designed to prevent. Certainly, the most egregious abusers will never respond to any type of “training”.
As I watch the story of harassment developing in the news, one of the common themes seems to be a general lack of understanding as to what actions constitute sexual harassment on the part of the actor and the “victim”. This creates a great deal of angst and anxiety in the workplace. Can sexual harassment training cover every interaction that might be considered “sexual harassment”? At the end of the day a training can provide a list of unacceptable behaviors but there is no training that can cover the myriad of potential human behaviors that someone might find offensive. It would be better to go back to the basic rules of human behavior, rather than relying on a list of unacceptable behaviors.
In its mildest and perhaps most pervasive form, sexual harassment involves treating someone disrespectfully without regard or concern as to how such comments or actions will be received by the other person.
There is a ubiquitous lack of consideration for others in our culture – in our workplaces, our communities and even our homes. We have become self-focused and even perhaps narcissistic as a culture and as individuals. I witness persons being rude to store clerks, customer service representatives on the phone, other drivers, their neighbors, co-workers and more. We are preoccupied with our own agenda and in our quest to get everything done or get somewhere quickly we have forgotten that our more important goal is to be kind and considerate of others we encounter.
This sounds a bit sophomoric or naïve. But I assure you it is not. Researchers have established that being compassionate improves our relationships, our health, our well-being, can help us live longer and contributes to our professional success. Businesses that create a culture of compassion are more profitable.
Before we act we should ask, “How will this be received by the person I am with”. If the answer is you don’t know or you have doubts then perhaps it is best left unsaid or undone or must be reframed in another way. If you say something that you later regret rather than ignoring the situation or the person, apologize. An apology can mend a relationship or right a wrong if it is genuine and coupled with a desire not to repeat the offensive behavior. This may also open the door to an authentic dialogue as to what behavior is or is not offensive in the workplace and/or between co-workers.
Let’s reframe the discussion on sexual harassment. Instead of “sexual harassment” training let’s institute “Compassion Development Training”. (It turns out adults and children can be trained to be compassionate.) It will not only give us a guide for what constitutes sexual harassment but it will also be a guide for all of our human interactions in the workplace and in our communities. For the recipient made uncomfortable by an interaction, learning to practice “self-compassion” will make it easier to challenge such behavior.
Let’s go back to the basics of human interaction:
Start every interaction by asking ourselves, “How would I feel if I were in the other person’s shoes?”
Compassion and its companions, kindness and forgiveness, make the world a better place and make us more successful, happier, healthier, better co-workers, leaders, bosses and less likely to engage in or accept offensive conduct.
The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science edited by Seppala, Emma M., Simon-Thomas, Emiliana, Brown, Stephanie L., Worline, Monica C., Cameron, C. Daryl & Doty, James R., Oxford University Press 2017.
Dutton, Jane E. & Worline, Monica C., Awakening Compassion at Work, The Quiet Power that elevates People and Organizations, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2017.
Kukk, Ph.D., Christopher L., The Compassionate Achiever, How Helping Others Fuels Your Success, Harper One Publishers 2017.