At least twice a month, I speak publically about how to deliver bad news. Audiences for these events often come prepared with scenarios they’d like me to respond to.
At one such event, a young woman (I’ll call her Susan) surfaced an incident she had encountered. On her first meeting with a new boss at a hotel during a business trip, he asked, “Do you like to party?”
Susan was absolutely floored and didn’t know how to respond. Eventually she stuttered out, “I mean, I enjoy an occasional glass of wine, but I wouldn’t say I like to party.”
Her response is much-too common when managing conflict. Because we want to make positive impressions, we steer clear of rocking the boat and, unfortunately, get dragged down into a rabbit hole of awkwardness.
You see, Susan didn’t want to answer that question—but she felt like she had no choice. And, without opening herself up to innuendo, she wanted to avoid coming across as a prude or spoilsport. So, she took the safe route with a response that left her reputation teetering somewhere between party animal and church girl.
Whenever it seems like your personal brand is at stake, you’ll do almost anything to keep it intact.
A better response to the inappropriate boss would have been for Susan to say, “I haven’t given that much thought. What I have given thought to is our presentation for tonight’s meeting.”
With this kind of redirect, you can control a conversation and boost approval ratings.
Here are some other communication techniques that can put a halt to inappropriate behavior:
- Stick to business topics. Demonstrate through your demeanor and word choice what is and isn’t appropriate conversation. If you catch yourself straying, simply course correct with a phrase such as “Let’s get back to the agenda.”
- Stand your ground. If the offending party persists, ask them to stop. A simple statement such as “Be appropriate” usually suffices. But when in doubt—be direct.
- Don’t overreact. Unless you feel physically threatened, keep your emotions in check. People often test the waters to see how far you’ll let them push an inappropriate topic. Once you establish clear boundaries, they’re likely to adhere to them.
- Never drink to excess—especially at business or professional functions. Alcohol comprises your internal filters—and loosens lips. When you say too much it automatically invites others to do the same.
- Get help when necessary. Document instances of inappropriate behavior and share that information with a human resource representative. However, be careful not to discuss the offending situation with more than one or two confidants. Doing so could lead to your being perceived as just another office gossip.
Before you act . . .
Keep a level head about situations that make you feel uncomfortable; make sure you haven’t misinterpreted what was said or done. The offender might be oblivious to how his or her actions make you feel.
Comment below if you’re curious about how to respond to a specific scenario—such as when a coworker asks if you’re going to apply for a certain job or when your boss asks why you are aren’t married.