Are You Unwittingly Offending Your Team Members?

BY Kathy Crosett
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As a manager, you might be tempted to engage in a bit of joke telling to break the ice with team members. This is an area where you should tread carefully. Remember that comedy is usually based on someone else’s misfortune. Unless you’re making yourself the butt of your jokes, you could be headed for trouble.

Inappropriate joke telling is just one way that managers end up sticking their proverbial foot into their mouths. The way Neal Goodman sees it, the workplace is filled with these kinds of micro-​aggressive behaviors. Managers don’t generally mean anything negative when they tell a joke that gets a good laugh at the expense of others. But, they’re bringing down the culture of the workplace, usually for employees who belong to a protected class.

If you’re engaging in micro-​aggressive behavior, you may not even be aware of it. But, your employees are. For example, maybe you have never bothered to learn the name of the young employee in accounting who wears a hijab. Maybe you keep calling her Ellen, but her name is Elise. After a while, Elise will begin to wonder why you can’t remember her name. She may conclude it’s because you don’t approve of her religion. It won’t be long before her job performance suffers.

Everyone knows you’re hugely busy. Therefore, it’s okay if you don’t introduce a couple of your new staff members during the monthly meeting. It’s up to them to shake hands and talk with everyone else, right? That’s one way to play the situation. But if the new staff members happen to be a different race from you, or are much younger than you, how do you suppose they are interpreting your actions?

They could assume you’re arrogant or racist. If you behave that way too many times, your employees will conclude that you don’t believe they’re very important. Their engagement and performance will fall off.

People rarely mean to cause offense. These workplace situations are more about awareness. Goodman encourages leaders to order awareness training for key managers. A few sessions of focused thinking about individual actions and how others interpret them can make a huge difference in your organization’s cultures. When managers slow down and take time to consider who might be offended by their actions – whether it’s forgetting to invite someone to a meeting or avoiding eye contact during a conversation – everyone wins. Managers have the power to turn routine workday interactions into engagement-​building moments for their team members.