By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. I used a common phrase around a female coworker and was immediately attacked for being sexist. I didn't know this phrase was offensive to her. I'm an older white guy and becoming paranoid about opening my mouth. How do I deal with a workplace that is increasingly politically correct?
A. The goal of political correctness is education, not support for random fits of rage. Education is best created when the innocence of the other party is assumed. No matter how mad your coworker was when you used the offensive phrase - she did her cause no service by attacking you.
People who use political correctness as entitlement to blow up are looking for openings to vent anger. The cause these people stand for may be noble but their behavior is not.
Everyone has unique and different ideas about what is offensive. We all have a right to our ideas. The trouble starts when we assume anyone who is ignorant or sees the world differently is bad.
If I have a terrible reaction to the word yellow because I nearly died from jaundice as a child, I can let coworkers know I react badly to the word. It is not helpful to pitch a fit the first time they say yellow and accuse them of blatant insensitivity.
If you want to have influence at work, be willing to get educated about reactions others have to your words and behaviors. If you want to educate others about how to be effective with you, assuming they are malicious or stupid isn't a good starting point. Arguing that you are right just means the other person is wrong and wrong people enjoy revenge more than education.
To navigate an increasingly politically correct world, separate out education from huffiness. You are accountable for what people tell you - not for what you don't know. Ask your coworker if she believed you purposely meant to offend her. Make it clear you did not know her feelings about the offensive phrase and are open to education. Also let her know it is easier to become educated if she realizes you and she have different associations to the same words.
Q. I've had a string of bad luck at different jobs. How do I explain to my next employer that it wasn't my fault?
A. Your next employer would rather hear what you've learned from your experiences. Employers know bad luck is usually the companion of employees who chose blame over responsibility.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. You can contact Dr. Skube at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.INTERPERSONAL EDGE. DISTRIBUTED BY TMS
This was originally printed in the July 4, 2010 - July 17, 2010 edition.