3 Ways to Avoid Causing Offense at the Office (and Everywhere Else)
Once you’ve offended a coworker or—even worse—your boss, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to restore the relationship.
An incident that seems small and insignificant to you might come across as large and life-changing to another person. If what you do or say (or fail to do or say) is interpreted as a full assault on someone’s sense of personal dignity and worth, you have a problem. Potentially a large problem. Which isn’t good for your career or your goals.
Here’s how to make sure that doesn’t happen:
1. Greet people you meet
Consider the common and routine custom of simply saying, “Good morning.” While this daily exchange may feel trivial and unnecessary, this is one way you can regularly acknowledge your colleagues’ existence and communicate that their lives matter. Yeah, it comes down to that.
Greetings are very important—particularly in some places on the planet. Something as simple as failing to offer a warm greeting can cut deeply. Nothing is said, and yet a profoundly negative message is received. It is pure poison. And likely not at all what you intended.
Sure, maybe the other person should grow up, get over it, stop being so sensitive and get on with their lives. But it doesn’t always work that way. A personal offense can linger in your fellow staff member’s heart, soul and mind for a very long time. Maybe even forever.
Causing an offense is a recipe for mutual misery. So what else can you do to avoid such an undesirable situation?
2. Affirm their worth
Rather than stomping on another person’s flag, so to speak, find a way to raise their flag up high. Raise your coworkers up rather than putting them down. Honor them. Train your tongue to speak affirming words. Emphasize their value. Delight in their personal dignity. Be sincere. Let them know that you are not completely absorbed with yourself—with your life, your ideas, your country, your plans, your future and your success.
Let the people on your team know that they matter. And they do. It isn’t all about you. You know that. But do they know that you know that? Be sure to communicate clearly. Be creative. Come to think of it, it wouldn’t hurt to help the people around you succeed and occasionally look good. They won’t mind at all, and you’ll be glad you did.
Take a cool relationship, add an offense, and you’ve got a serious problem. But a well-established and warm relationship can weather a few storms—maybe even a hurricane if necessary.
Being on good terms makes dealing with an occasional offense that much easier. Although an offense may still rock your relational boat, at least it won’t sink your ship.
3. Try to understand
Without being pushy or prying into anyone’s personal affairs, try to gain a greater sense of understanding. Aim for that. For everyone has a story, a history, complete with personal pain and problems. And each person grows up in a community and culture that to some extent shapes how they view the world.
Each day you arrive at work, assume you don’t understand the people you work with. Because you likely don’t. Not very well, anyway. Familiarity may even lead to greater misunderstanding. It happens. No offense, but you probably don’t have a clue what’s really going on in their lives.
That’s okay, because most human beings are like cats: crazy and complex.
Yes, some people at your office will likely be difficult to understand. It will take time—maybe even a lifetime—to gain a greater sense of understanding. Part of the problem is that most people in your company or organization will be quite a bit different from you. Imagine that!
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking everybody thinks the way you do. They don’t.
While at work, you might want to picture yourself mingling with friendly but alien creatures from another planet. You get the idea.
Variety and diversity can be wonderful in many ways—they make for a more interesting and vibrant working environment. But they can also lead to a paralyzing amount of misunderstanding.
And misunderstanding that leads to a personal offense is what you desperately want to avoid.
Nathan Olson has lived in Germany, Kenya, Lithuania and Canada. He has a graduate degree from Regent College (Vancouver, British Columbia) and manages Career & Life Direction.
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