I don't mean to offend youHave You Crossed the Line?

By Denise Williams, HR Consultant

In this day and age of political views, religious beliefs, and other hot topics, people in the workplace may be easily offended by your words, even if your comments may be innocent. Remember, with harassment, it is about perception, not intention. With this in mind, think of  how your comments could perceived or received, not how you intend them.

Often after facilitating a non-harassment seminar, employees approach me and ask me what the safe topics are to discuss at work. I tell them even a compliment can go wrong, so steer clear of anything that can be misconstrued.  A simple statement can be taken in a multitude of ways depending on the inflection. The exercise below demonstrates this.

Using the following sentence, let’s see how the meaning of the message changes based on where we place the inflection.

I didn’t say you were stupid!
I didn’t say you were stupid!
I didn’t say you were stupid!
I didn’t say you were stupid!
I didn’t say you were stupid!
I didn’t say you were stupid!

Apologize

What do you do if you think you crossed the line? The first thing you should do if you think you crossed the line is apologize. Sometimes, a simple apology will ease someone’s mind enough so that they do not report you to the HR department. Being aware of the person’s reaction is key to knowing whether or not you crossed the line.

The “Mom” Test

Another tidbit of advice is to use the “mom” test. If you wouldn’t say something in front of your mom or wouldn’t want her to hear you say it, then you shouldn’t say it in the workplace. Something we tell our children is if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all, also works as an adult in the work environment. Choose your words and comments carefully. If you are unsure, don’t say it!