Apparently, a generation or two ago, the white-collar workplace was a much tougher environment. People yelled at each other and humiliated each other to get the jobs done – well, at least, those are the stories I’ve heard. And it may still be that way in some places.


In this generation, these types of behaviors are becoming less and less acceptable. Many like to think it’s because we’re “soft.” I look at as “raising the bar,” raising the standard of expectation for reasonable people to create a reasonable working environment. If your technical argument or business case is so good, you should be able to back it up with reason, logic, and actual facts. In other words, less pulpit beating and more evidence, please.


To keep it simple, when the discussion attacks the person and not the idea; when the comments become personal and dismissive of the individual; and when the room becomes uncomfortably quiet, nothing good is happening. I’ll leave it to the HR gurus for the exact legal definition, but “hostile” work environments are reportable and have legal ramifications.


When someone interrupts me, attacks me personally, and attempts to speak over me – they’re a jerk and a bully.

I don’t care if everyone is yelling as long as we’re yelling about the idea, the data, or the strategy. When someone interrupts me, attacks me personally, and attempts to speak over me – they’re a jerk and a bully.


When you use your physical stature or proximity to intimidate (think Donald Trump’s proximity to Hilary Clinton in the 2nd Presidential debate), it is pretty obvious that you are getting desperate. I recognized it as I watched because I’ve see it happen. Regardless of who you voted for, this behavior is unacceptable anywhere.


Recently, I was out on a mommy-son date night with my preteen son. I was suddenly reminded about the many dinner discussions we had growing up where we learned about professionalism and handling issues in the workplace.


I took the opportunity to discuss an office situation with my son, similar to how my parents used to share things with us. He asked me if I was the boss or if my troublemaker was the boss. I told him we were peers. He asked who was better at their job. I made a funny face and said I was clearly better, he exclaimed with a smile, “Good!” He asked if I could get the guy fired. I explained that I’m not in charge of those decisions, and it is a lot more difficult to fire someone than he might think.


He was insistent that I should report it to HR – his words, not mine. I told him that one thing he would learn about his mother is that she likes to solve her own problems. I then suggested we brainstorm some quick and savvy comebacks I could use in the future, since my last one got to the point but wasn’t very smooth or funny. (What do you expect from a Mormon super geek?)


As we tried quips out and laughed at each other, I gave him some parameters – we can’t threaten violence, we can’t threaten to fire anyone, and we can’t swear. Any of those comments would get me in trouble with HR. I loved watching the wheels turn in his head.


Some of our favorites:

“Temper tantrums stopped being acceptable when we were three.”

“When you’re done with your temper tantrum, I’d like to discuss how we’re going to fix our issue.”


I made a few quips with references to Rumpelstiltskin stomping his feet on the floor, which he didn’t think were very good. He made references to ballistic missiles and emergency rooms, which I didn’t think were appropriate.


Now, on occasion, we can all lose our heads. Written apologies, private in-person apologies, and public ones are always acceptable. Wait until you are calm and be genuine. Say what you are genuinely sorry for. Then seek to change your behavior and identify your personal triggers to increase your chances for long-term change.


To read more of Molly’s articles, click here.

Often, if it’s a particular person, getting to know them better helps. Find excuses to drop by their work area and make time to get to know them. I know that a trigger point for many people is when you question their ethics or morals, or blame their team, so it is best to choose your words carefully (and sometimes that still doesn’t help if your opponent is ready for a fight).


Personally, I evaluate the relationship. I determine whether I value the relationship for the long term. If the relationship is important to me, I try to remind myself that I want to recover from this incident. I don’t want to go anywhere in my argument I can’t recover from. You know what I’m talking about — hitting the raw nerves we all know are there.


Unfortunately, I keep learning that one from experience.

About Molly A. Kerr
Molly is on a life long quest to figure herself out. Born to be and educated as an aerospace engineer she is also blessed to be a wife and a mom of two in the present, previously served as a full-time missionary, is consistently called to teach the youth in her ward, is eagerly though slowly doing home improvement as money and time allow, all while gradually learning how to be herself and find peace and balance somewhere in between. Despite her attempts to make “the right” decisions in her life, she has learned to deal with some unexpected challenges over the last two decades. Total tornadoes, really. What she has discovered is that her career has taught her a lot about the Gospel and being a better mother, and the Gospel, when applied to challenges at the office, has made her a better professional. She has also learned that it is okay to be herself, and God still loves (and forgives) her for it.

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