Posted on Mon, Jan. 28, 2008 10:15 PM
Dear Diversity Diva: Recent events in the local news have made me wonder what is the best way of handling it when someone you work with calls you by a name or uses words around you that you find offensive. Should you always make a complaint? — Confused About Complaining
Dear Confused: The simple answer is, sure, if you feel like someone’s offended you, go complain. After all, that’s what the human resources department and employment laws are for.
But the simple route isn’t always best.
Deciding whether to confront, complain or suffer in silence depends on the facts. If you “put someone on blast” by filing a complaint, eventually everyone you work with will know about it. (And trust me, regardless of what anyone tells you, filing an “anonymous” complaint can put just as much scrutiny on you as it does the person you’ve brought the complaint against.) Every workplace circumstance differs.
Still, if the person making the offensive comment is your boss, and that person is clearly and overtly making stupidly offensive comments to you, the most appropriate thing probably would be to trot down to HR and tell them about it. But if the person is a peer, or at the very least not a supervisor, then first try a direct approach with the individual.
You also should try directness when the issue that burns you is an isolated event. I’m not in the perception-is-reality camp — perception is often complex and highly personal. In an isolated instance, what could be a deliberate or reckless offense from one person’s standpoint could just be something misunderstood, taken out of context or just plain heard wrong.
An obvious offense to you may not be so to the “offender,” and a two-way, open conversation may clear that up.
Be warned, however: Being direct can be viewed as confrontational or worse, depending on whom you’re dealing with.
Some people, even when informed they have offended, will continue to argue their right to do so, saying: “That’s just being oversensitive. Besides, that’s a stupid thing to be offended by anyway.” For people like that, a formal complaint may be the best and only way to stop an ongoing issue.