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Effectively Responding To Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

Sexual harassment is a critical issue in the modern workplace. In a recent study, 54% of the respondents stated that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment in their place of employment. Unfortunately, that means quite a few people will be forced to respond to a harasser in their professional lives.

Responding effectively in these situations can be difficult. However, that shouldn't prevent you from asserting yourself and clearly stating that you won't tolerate being harassed. Contacting a sexual harassment lawyer and keeping a few key points in mind can make this unfortunate process easier to navigate.

Key Point #1--Stay Calm

If you're being harassed at work, you're probably going to be angry. An angry response is likely to cause more issues for you in the long run. Even though your emotional response is completely justified, you'll need to do whatever you can to remain calm.

Before you respond, take a deep cleansing breath. Then, remember that you have no obligation to remain in a situation where you feel threatened and angry. If you are unable to remain calm at any point, leave the situation and return on your own terms when you're in a better state of mind.

Key Point #2--State Your Feelings Plainly

As unlikely as it sounds, quite a few harassers are not aware of their behavior. This is particularly true when the harassment is indirect--such as telling inappropriate jokes to other colleagues. Since harassment is defined by the person experiencing it, it's important to state that harassment is taking place.

Walk directly up to the person initiating the harassment and state that you're feeling harassed. Keep your sentences short and do not engage in an argument. You do not have to justify your feelings or explain them in any great detail. Simply say that you're feeling harassed and that the offensive behavior needs to stop.

Key Point #3--Discuss The Behavior Only

The tone of your conversation with the harasser could take any number of uncomfortable turns. One way to avoid making the discussion problematic is to focus your comments on the behavior that needs to stop. That way, you won't inadvertently engage in an insult war or other unproductive exchange.

The easiest way to do this is to constantly reference how the behavior makes you feel. For example, try phrasing your comments in the following formats:

  • "When you do this, I feel very uncomfortable."
  • "My work suffers because your behavior makes me very upset."
  • "I don't deserve to experience this where I work."

Focusing on your feelings will prevent the conversation from moving to the offender. Also, your expectations and your feelings are clear when you speak in this way. Just remember--you don't have to justify your feelings. All you're doing is stating why the behavior is unacceptable to you.

Key Point #4--Report The Incident

It's often scary to report sexual harassment incidents to management or human resources. There's also the risk of alienating friends and colleagues by reporting a well-liked individual. None of these factors matter--you need to refer the issue to the appropriate party right away. 

For starters, you might not be aware of how many other people are offended by the harassing behavior. If incidents go unreported, they have a tendency to repeat themselves. On top of that, management needs to see the trends of behaviors as they really happen. If things were to escalate in the future, this sequence of events and reports would be critical to reaching a resolution.

Responding to sexual harassment in the workplace is never easy. The process is uncomfortable, frustrating, and messy. Hopefully, keeping these tips in mind will provide a foundation for you to achieve the resolution that you deserve.