Interpersonal EDGE: N-Bomb in Workplace
Thursday, February 10, 2011

By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services

Q. I've been following the media storm regarding Dr. Laura Schlessinger and the African-American caller. I am an African-American executive and frequently have white colleagues ask me about race. I consider it a compliment that they consider me a credible source of information. How can I let them know they don't need to walk on eggshells with me?

A. You can encourage your colleagues to seek you out as a source of education on race issues when they discover that you are committed to reducing ignorance rather than increasing the huffy factor on the planet.

As a white woman, I cannot fully understand the actual experience of anyone of color in the workplace. But, as a woman, I am intimately familiar with the reality of sexism. I have learned in 30 years of work experience that most people are more ignorant than malicious. If I take the head off a male coworker because he called me "honey," I've done more to harm my cause of equal rights than his word choice.

I am an advocate of stepping back and considering the context in which people use language at work. If a male colleague calls me "sweetie," with a warm, respectful voice, I prefer to respond to his underlying intention of support than nail him for a sexist word choice.

As human beings, we have more that unites us than divides us. The big things like birth, death and pain should motivate us to have compassion for each other. Unfortunately, at work many people forget our commonalities and walk around just looking for offence.

Many of your colleagues have run into these people who brim over with a desire to be able to cry victim. Many of your colleagues may be borderline paranoid to upset anyone over their choice of God, sexual preference, race, age, gender, political affiliation or what have you. The real victim of the rise of huffiness at work is curiosity.

If we cease to ask poignant questions about each other, the rich diversity of our workplaces is lost. We simply cannot understand the way each of sees the world when people are so afraid of offending each other that they stop talking to each other.

Good for you for being willing to be an ambassador for your race in the workplace! People like you are solving the critical question facing our species. Will we learn to understand each other so we can cooperate to solve the enormous problems we all face, or will our species end because we all chose terminal huffiness?

You may think that your compassionate support of your coworkers' curiosity is a small matter but you are quietly solving the biggest problem humanity faces, one person at a time!


Q. My boss is having me work unbelievably long hours. I'm afraid if I bring it up he will fire me. Should I sit silently and suffer or speak up?

A. Speak up! Asking about options won't get you fired. But burning out at work will.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.


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