Thursday, November 03, 2011

If In Doubt

Because I consult on discrimination issues and write on workplace tact, people will sometimes ask, "I'm thinking of telling this joke at a staff meeting. Do you think it will be all right?"

My answer is, "If you have to ask, it's probably not all right."

When it comes to tact, our doubts can be alarm bells. We may be very foolish to ignore them. We seldom have to apologize for what wasn't said. It would be convenient if our mouths had rewind and delete buttons.

At the same time, it is important to cultivate a climate of trust in which stupid or insensitive remarks are recognized as simply that and nothing more and where people are given the benefit of the doubt. As Zig Ziglar once remarked, "Some people look for insult as if there's a reward for it."

Avoiding the "gotcha" game may be generous but it is also in one's self-interest. Today's victim may be tomorrow's perpetrator. Unless the behavior is severe or frequent, it makes sense to develop a certain tolerance for cloddish comments. Words can hurt, but we are not fragile pieces of china.

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