One of the questions we often get asked in our workshops and coaching is "can’t you give us a list of what we can and can’t say?" In fact, the most recent request, albeit a bit tongue in cheek, was for an “appropriate language” dictionary!
We understand the sentiment – faced with workplaces which have changed immeasurably over the last 20 years, and with lines increasingly blurred between work, social and even home lives, it can feel like a tricky area to navigate.
The constant media headlines citing the latest misconduct, often from senior figures, are good for keeping the topic at the top of organisations’ agendas, but the fear of getting it wrong like the people making the headlines and suffering the dire consequences, can end up tying people up in knots over what is OK to say and do.
Is it OK to comment on someone’s appearance? Is it OK to ask someone out at work? Is it OK to joke along with someone if they laugh too?
Often the worry just shuts people down - which is the opposite of what we want for a thriving, inclusive workplace.
It’s this fear of getting it wrong that often leads to the request for a definitive list of what’s ok and what’s not.
But that’s not the answer.
Rigid boundaries merely give credence to the belief that this focus on behaviour is sucking all the fun out of workplaces – also not good for a happy, thriving environment.
Rather, we need to be supporting teams to open up conversations around what they feel is appropriate and what isn’t – get them discussing, sharing experiences and points of view.
Common themes are very likely to emerge and can help the team to agree on its own set of behavioural standards.
But differences of opinion will surface too and that’s also valuable. The more everyone is able to see things from a different perspective, the less likely we are to make assumptions about how something might land with another person. Discussion helps to bring clarity.
We won’t always get it right, and it also helps to have an agreement that that’s ok, as long as we acknowledge, apologise and move on.
So, ditch the dictionary idea, scrap the definitive lists and get people talking instead. They will thank you for the opportunity.
For more information on how we can facilitate these discussions and offer some practical down to earth guidance on appropriate workplace behaviour call us on 01903 732 782 email or take a look at how we have helped other organisations.
Stella Chandler and I founded Focal Point on a shared belief that a training course run in isolation doesn't work. We passionately believe there must be support both before and after the training or coaching session itself for it to make a difference. When I am not facilitating sessions with clients or looking at ways to grow the Focal Point business, you will find me in a calming yoga class...