Interpersonal EDGE: Is Criticizing 'Fat People' Workplace Harassment
Sunday, May 22, 2011

By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services

Q. I work with a guy who has lost a lot of weight and now is constantly running down "disgusting fat people." In every conversation, he brings up his healthy food choices and criticizes fat people. I'm overweight and starting to dread going to work. My co-worker brings up the topic at every chance (even in front of clients). My husband says this is harassment. What can I do?

A. Unfortunately, lots of people we work with will hurt our feelings for multiple reasons. What you can do is make it clear to your co-worker that the "fat" conversation is over.

Start by telling your co-worker you need some help with something and set up a private meeting to talk to him. Make the place where you meet neutral - not your office or his. Also make sure your meeting spot is out of earshot of others.

Tell your co-worker that you admire his self-discipline in taking care of his body and making healthy food choices. Let him know that you can see he has enjoyed making these changes and is feeling enthusiastic about supporting everyone in wellness. Also tell him that you are certain he would not want to embarrass you or anyone else who is overweight by having conversations about fat people in front of you.

The general tone of the conversation is to assume he has good intentions and to assume he is merely ignorant of the impact he is having. Even people who do intend to hurt your feelings will not want to openly admit to being malicious. Assuming innocence allows ignorant people to save face and malicious people to stop their bad behavior without taking a self-esteem hit.

I realize that after feeling tortured daily by this guy, you might secretly want to make him feel like a heel, but making him feel bad won't guarantee anything but revenge. Instead, focus on letting him off the hook and getting a comfortable work environment.

Finish your conversation with him by telling him that you know he wouldn't want to undermine your effectiveness with clients by discussing weight issues in front of you. Thank him for ceasing to have these conversations with you about weight and focusing instead on work projects.

If, despite your diplomatic approach, he continues to discuss fat people with you, don't assume you have to put up with it. Ask him for another conversation and give him two options:

1) He keeps his earlier commitment to stop discussing fat, or ...
2) You'll have to ask for assistance from your boss, because these conversations are distracting you from your job.

My clients tell me that the best part of having interpersonal tools is realizing they are not powerless in the workplace. People who don't learn people tools usually put up with problems and then blow up. They then learn the hard way that counterattacking just creates more conflict. If you can allow your co-worker to save face, he'll have the incentive to change, and you can again look forward to going to work.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" . She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). Contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.

May 22, 2011 - June 4, 2011 Edition


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