Two years ago, I had to deal with inappropriate behavior toward me by a colleague in my professional association. I found the experience demeaning, disrespectful, and confusing. It still weighs heavily on my mind. I did nothing to encourage the bad behavior by the other person, but it left me wanting to avoid attending meetings with that association. I am paying a price for something I didn’t do. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone, including you. In retrospect, I wish I would have said something at the time, but it was totally unexpected and I was too surprised to say anything. Inappropriate behavior is wrong and needs to stop. I’m writing this post in the hope that it will be helpful to you, in case you’re going through something similar. Please leave a comment with your thoughts and suggestions.

Inappropriate behavior comes in many shapes and sizes. Maybe it’s an unwanted sexual come-on, racist or sexist humor, dishonesty, bullying, or maybe it’s something else. Regardless, your ability to successfully deal with inappropriate behavior allows you to maintain your dignity and self-respect and possibly keep your job.

If you feel your safety is threatened, please take steps immediately to ensure your safety.

Dealing with Inappropriate Behavior

Dealing with inappropriate behavior by a coworker, a boss, a client, or even a social acquaintance is challenging to say the least. It can be annoying and can make you feel uncomfortable. It happens to both women and men, young and old, from every walk of life. If you’re dealing with inappropriate behavior, you’re not alone.

Bad behavior is unacceptable. Unfortunately, you may be in a position where you need your job or you need that difficult client. Blowing the whistle on bad behavior can result in undesirable outcomes for the whistleblower. In situations like that, your ability to deal with bad behavior using grace and finesse may allow you to keep your self-respect and dignity, along with your job or that important client.

What About HR?

If you work for a large organization, you may be able to involve the HR department in dealing with the inappropriate behavior. Even if you involve HR, however, there’s no guarantee that they’ll agree with you and support you. If you’re a small business owner dealing with a client who behaves poorly, HR is not an option. So, how can you deal with bad behavior if HR isn’t part of the mix?

How to Handle Inappropriate Behavior

Dealing with inappropriate behavior can be complicated, but here are five tips to help you figure out what to do.

  1. Tip #1: It’s not your fault. It’s not the way you dress, it’s not something you said. Inappropriate behavior is the result of the other person making a poor decision about how to act with you.
  2. Tip #2: You decide how important it is to you. There is no excuse for bad behavior; this post is meant to help inform your decisions about what action to take and the level of action you choose to take. Was it a one-time offensive word choice or is there a pattern of ongoing behavior that makes you uncomfortable? Is this a problem with company culture or is it one person acting inappropriately? Was there something about the circumstances that may have affected the person’s choices and, under other circumstances, would they act differently? Your options include ignoring it, changing jobs, discussing it with the perpetrator, discussing it with a manager, taking it to HR, filing a formal complaint, or taking legal action. Regardless of which option you choose, the decision is yours alone.
  3. Tip #3: Ignore it in the moment and remove yourself from the situation. Victims of bad behavior have been told for years to ignore it or laugh it off. That’s not the point of this tip. Your comfort and safety is paramount. My friend Terri was a business consultant calling on a client. She was in a meeting with a group of men who planned a visit to a strip club after the meeting. She explained that she was too tired to go out, and had them drop her back at her hotel. She got out of the uncomfortable situation, then addressed it later in a safe environment. One side benefit of ignoring is that, in doing so, you provide an exit strategy for the other person where they can also preserve their dignity. This is not meant to give them a pass by any means, but it can help avoid awkwardness later if you choose to maintain the relationship.
  4. Tip #4: Document with date, time, place, and specifics of the behavior. If there’s a pattern of bad behavior and you choose to file a complaint, the more detailed documentation you have, the more likely your complaint will be taken seriously.
  5. Tip #5: Involve another person. Depending on the nature of the bad behavior, you could involve your boss, an HR person, or a trusted friend or colleague. You don’t need to be in it alone and, frankly, you shouldn’t be in it alone.

Some people don’t understand or respect boundaries. They might not realize they’ve acted inappropriately, although that doesn’t excuse their behavior. Your ability to navigate relationships with all types of people using grace and finesse while maintaining your self-respect and dignity can help you preserve relationships and gain the respect of the people around you.

It’s often said that we can’t control what others say and do, but we are in complete control of our responses to them. When dealing with bad behavior, be thoughtful, don’t allow yourself to get pulled down to the other person’s level, and think about your desired outcome in making your decision about how to respond.

Join Me at IT Nation Explore

Want to go deeper on dealing with inappropriate behavior in the workplace? Attend my breakout session at IT Nation Explore this June.

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