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Most people do their best to avoid confrontation and pot-stirring; sometimes, we take this too far and don’t want to file a complaint about something serious. It is easy to justify to ourselves that a particular situation or coworker is not a problem and that we are fine, even if we aren’t. So how do we handle the situation? Navigating an uncomfortable situation is hard, and it can be even more challenging when it occurs in the workplace.

A hostile work environment is legally defined as a behavior that is discriminatory in nature and violates a reasonable standard for a comfortable workplace. However, behaviors that aren’t necessarily discriminatory in nature but still cause harm are essential to address. Having a comfortable workplace is extremely important. If there is an ongoing behavior that jeopardizes this, employees should feel encouraged to speak up. Addressing this behavior is beneficial for everyone involved, even if it can be daunting at first. If you find yourself dealing with inappropriate behavior by another coworker, what should you do?

A good place to start is acknowledging that the behavior being exhibited makes you uncomfortable and is not welcomed in the workplace. This can be a tricky step for many people because it may be easier to pretend that the behavior is normal and acceptable instead of finally addressing the issue. A good employer should clarify that any inappropriate behavior, no matter how small it may seem, is unacceptable. Some examples of inappropriate behavior include verbal or written abrasive remarks, unwanted attention, sexually explicit, offensive, and belittling comments. Everyone responds differently to these situations, but once you acknowledge that an unfavorable problem occurred, you can begin looking for help.

If you are not ready to go to HR, maybe you have someone in the office you are comfortable confiding in. You may learn that the behavior has been noticed by other people in the office space. In that case, it can be easier to address the situation as a group. Finding someone else to confide in can be beneficial because they may be willing to report the incident on your behalf or point you to some other resources should you need them. It is totally normal to not want to go straight to management or HR about a problematic coworker. Still, it is important to remember that your comfort is a priority in the workspace.

Maybe you don’t want to go to HR, it can also be a good idea to address the harasser one-on-one. When the behavior is not too severe, some employees may feel comfortable talking to them and explaining why their behavior was problematic. It is crucial to be very purposeful with your words if you address the other person directly. Go in with a calm head, grace, and professionalism so as to not escalate the situation and act regrettably. A good practice to have in the workplace is a system called “oopsie and ouchies.” It is based on the understanding that people make mistakes and may not realize they are being offensive when acting with good intentions and acknowledging the harm associated with their actions. The idea is that someone comfortable approaching the person explains what was hurtful in a compassionate way instead of being accusatory and aggressive. This allows everyone to feel comfortable around each other while also creating a conducive environment for learning. HR may be brought in when a coworker responds poorly to being addressed or continues to make the same microaggression.

In an organization with a robust diversity, equity and inclusion training program, instances of harassment and inappropriate behavior should be a rare occurrence. However, should it occur, it is vital that employees feel comfortable speaking out about the incident and that the problem is addressed swiftly and adequately. Employees should know that it is never their fault for another employee’s inappropriate behavior. If it is an ongoing issue, they have every right to be upset and report the aggressor. Additionally, should the behavior be discriminatory, legal actions can be taken against the perpetrator and employer if appropriate action is not taken. Everyone has the right to a safe work environment. The experts at the Miner Agency are committed to helping both employers and employees develop the skills necessary to ensure this for everyone within an organization.