5 Tips for Avoiding Harassment

By Dr. Jeffrey Gardere

It seems you can’t watch a news story or flip through a paper these days without coming across another harassment scandal. It’s brought on a much-needed national conversation. Though harassment and sex discrimination have precise legal definitions (which are beyond the scope of this piece), they are often a part of a sexist and bullying mentality and/or culture; the inappropriate behaviors may come out of ignorance and immaturity. Often, the culture of the workplace may tolerate a boys or girls club mentality.

The true challenge at the workplace is not just weeding out sexual harassment, but creating a culture where appropriate and professional behavior is the norm so that everyone can coexist in a safe and productive manner. As you enter the workplace or a higher level academic environment, there may be issues that arise. It’s always best to be prepared in advance. With that in mind, the following are five tips on how you can work with colleagues and management to establish a proper and appropriate/professional environment:

Think Respect — Always keep in the forefront of your mind respect for others and respect for yourself. Understand the importance of staying within the lines of proper and professional behavior in how you treat others, but also in how you behave and are perceived. Therefore, think twice about even borderline offensive behaviors, such as certain types of jokes, engaging in informalities and being too personal. The easiest way to maintain respect is by being friendly but not too familiar.

Shut it Down — If you are subjected to any rude, demeaning or inappropriate behaviors, don’t sit on it or hope it goes away. Be assertive (not aggressive) and shut it down. Human nature compels people who are not corrected, or called on their bad behaviors, to continue down the same path. Shutting down a behavior may mean telling the offending individual that you will not tolerate their behavior and/or reporting them to a supervisor. Or, it can mean pulling the person to the side and calmly letting them know their behavior has crossed a line and is not something you are going to tolerate. That tack may be very successful in pointing out an offending behavior of which the person may not even be aware. If modesty or a gentle nature preclude you from making such an overture, then resources exist (such as Institutional Compliance and Human Resources) for the overture to be made nonetheless.

If You See Something Say Something — Just because someone else is the target of bad behavior or is perpetrating that kind of behavior, does not mean that you fade into the background or become a noncommittal bystander. It is important that everyone in the workplace contributes to a healthy working environment and therefore, if you see something inappropriate, you should intervene, or report harassing behaviors.

Filter — Before you make off the cuff comments, or speak strictly from emotion, count to five. Ask yourself what the impact of your statement or behavior may be, before you initiate it. Assess whether your comments or actions could be viewed as insulting or inappropriate before making them.

Encourage Clear Rules and Policies — This is where the workplace is not only a company or institution but also a village. It helps to establish rules and guidelines for a healthy and respectful work environment. You can do this by attending trainings and workshops where you can learn and give input. But most importantly, lead by example, doing your best to exhibit healthy, honest and respectful behaviors.

Dr. Gardere is a board-certified psychologist and professor of behavioral science at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine