How To Remain Professional During Uncomfortable Conversations

Two businessman shake handsDespite the majority of employees striving to remain polite, engaged, and productive while at work, sooner or later most people will find themselves in an uncomfortable conversation that the just can’t seem to get out of. Whether the offender is a fellow colleague, a supervisor, or a client, it is important that the uncomfortable party remains confident in their professionalism and actively defends their right to be treated with respect.

There are as many personalities as there are people in an office, and sometimes a given two simply don’t get along. Whether it is intentional or not, some people just don’t know when to draw the line. They awkwardly interject themselves into conversations, tell off-colour jokes, or take good natured ribbing a step too far.

Sometimes an individual can be made to feel uncomfortable by the tone in which they are addressed. Patronising nick names meant to make the person feel inferior are never appropriate for the workplace. Sexist or racist comments, or attempts to force religious or political views on others should not be tolerated either.

The kindest thing to do with these clueless, patronising, or pushy individuals is to tactfully redirect the conversation to a more appropriate topic. A simple statement of “Well that was a bit much. How about that meeting?” can help these awkward conversations return to an appropriate work-related topic. Hopefully in time they will begin to understand the finer nuances of workplace conversation.

Unfortunately, there are individuals who actually seem to enjoy making others feel uncomfortable. Every conversation with them is riddled with sexual innuendos and inappropriate body language that goes beyond harmless flirting and comes across as leery. They may make repeated advances requesting dates despite being consistently turned down.

These individuals may need a firmer hand to stop their behaviours. Many people, particularly women, struggle to stand up for themselves in the case of sexual harassment, but it is important that these behaviours are stopped. If clearly stating “Your behaviours are making me uncomfortable, I am not interested and would appreciate it if you stop” doesn’t work, or if the harasser is in a position of power over the harassed individual, leaders and human resource staff will need to become involved.

For any situation that causes an individual feels truly uncomfortable it is important that every instance is documented. Sending the offending individual an e-mail regarding the situation is a great way to document dates, times, and the details of the events. If they were asked to stop a given behaviour in the moment and immediately complied or apologised, reiterating that their concern for the feelings of others can reinforce the lesson learned.

If the individual seemed offended when they were asked to stop harassing, or if their behaviour leaves others unable to complete their job tasks or feel as if their job is threatened, this information should be included in the email and organisational leaders and human resource staff should be sent a copy. They will be able to help determine whether the situation warrants further actions, such as preventing the employees from working together, to ensure everyone feels that their work environment is safe.

Many thanks

Mark Williams

Head of Training

MTD Training | Management Blog | Image courtesy of Big Stock Photo

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