As a sensitivity training workshop facilitator, something I hear a lot is “I was blindsided by a colleague” or “Why didn’t they just come to me if they had an issue with me?” In this position as facilitator, I have learned a lot about the frustrations people have when their colleagues raise issues to a manager or HR rather than coming to them directly; but there are a number of reasonable reasons why this happens.
If someone has raised an issue about your behavior, ask yourself the following questions:
Does this employee report to me?
If so, this person may want to stay in good standing with you, even though they find your behavior unwelcome.
Is this employee new to the group?
If so, consider their perspective. They may not want to be perceived as coming in and shaking things up. But it doesn’t mean they should suffer in silence in an environment that they find hostile.
Has this person mentioned the issue to me before? Did I do something about it?
It is possible that a person tried to raise an issue with you before, and they feel it didn’t work for whatever reason.
Do you consider your relationship with this person to be friendly? Too friendly? Is it so friendly that you sometimes enter into inappropriate conversations in the work context (comments or jokes of a sexual nature, or that touch on legally protected characteristics)?
If so, then going to a manager or HR is the correct step to take, because this is more than just an unwelcome comment or joke. This behavior crosses a legal boundary and can be considered harassment.
The good news is there are preventative steps you can take to avoid complaints about your behavior.
Stay away from topics that can be controversial: sexuality, gender identity, politics, religion, generational differences (millennials vs baby boomers), political correctness, etc. When such topics do come up, tune into the reactions and facial expressions of those present. Is anyone uncomfortable?
If you like to make jokes in the office, consider the content of the jokes. Do they touch on a protected class (race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, etc) or are they of a sexual nature? If so, then going to a manager or HR is the correct step to take, because this is more than just an unwelcome comment or joke. This crosses a legal boundary and can be considered harassment.
You can learn more steps and strategies for prevention from our Professional Boundaries course.