“She’s comes out with racist, sexist, ugly put-downs. She’s very, very stressful to be around, and it’s not like I can avoid her – she’s my boss.”
Who hasn’t come across someone like Katie’s manager?
Maybe it’s the ‘jokey’ homophobic discriminator. Perhaps it’s the neighborhood gossip or the uncle with the inappropriate questions.
At worst, these people are being intentionally unkind.
At best, they’re simply oblivious and don’t notice other people’s feelings.
Ultimately, though, it’s the same result. Interactions with them are draining.
Often, we ‘take the higher road and say nothing,’ and as a result, we walk away feeling frustrated.
And most troubling, if you’re like many of the women I work with, we ‘stuff down’ our frustrations by overeating.
How to protect yourself?
Katie shared that she could always think of a suitable response to her boss….. but only afterward.
Frequently, she was so appalled or bewildered by the conversations that she’d freeze up and be silent.
The problem with silence is that it can imply consent.
What Katie needed was a plan.
Something pre-prepared and practiced – so she was able to use her voice to speak up and illustrate very, very clear boundaries, rather than being tongue-tied.
So, next time someone says something inappropriate or invasive here’s what to do:
1. Get clarification
“I’m sorry…… what did you just say?”
Get them to repeat whatever it was they said. Most people will amend their conversational direction and tone at this point.
Also, “wait, whaaaaaaaaaaaaat did you just say?” said with an incredulous look on your face, works well too.
And if they do repeat it, go on to number 2.
“Did you reeeeeally just say that?” Again, the incredulous look adds emphasis.
Make sure you say “ouch” loudly enough, so it’s obvious, “that hurts. Stop it.”
We all have memories of playing as toddlers and “ouch” reminds the other person at an instinctual level, “that hurts,” but without the anger of lashing out.
Boundaries don’t have to be that complicated. There doesn’t need to be an outlined mission statement with a written action plan that includes a code of conduct and disciplinary action plan.
All you need is to own your “no” and make it clear their behaviour is unclassy and will not be tolerated.
Yes, there’ll be times when you’ll forget to say “ouch,” and only remember it later, but with practice, you’ll remember to say it at the time, and it’ll become a habit.
And yes, it’ll feel awkward at first.
Give yourself permission to feel awkward and keep practicing, so it becomes spontaneous.
And as soon as the conversation turns toxic, you’re ready to shut it down!
Love etc, Avril