Recently I delivered a presentation at a conference, and right at the end one attendee asked this question:
“When did everyone get so sensitive? I feel like there are so many things we have to watch out for when we talk these days. You can offend anyone over every little thing now. It’s kind of exhausting.”
Everyone’s always been “sensitive” to being isolated, excluded, and treated differently because of their race, gender, sex, disability or other characteristic.
The difference isn’t that people are more “sensitive” than they used to be, it’s that they feel more comfortable telling you about it than they used to be.
And by “they,” I mean all of us. Ironically, the woman who asked this question was the same woman who had shared an experience of sexual harassment earlier on in my talk.
It was not appropriate to bring up 25 years ago when it happened. Afterall, it was just a customer asking her out on a date – had she brought it up to her boss he would’ve asked her why she was being so sensitive.
Though far too many people still experience this situation at work, it’s easier to discuss because most of us would not consider it “too sensitive” any more.
So we’ve made some progress. But we have so much more to make.
While it might be hard to keep up with others’ “sensitivities” because we don’t understand them, we all have our own list of priorities when it comes to how we want to be treated at work. And we all want people to know and care about them.
Civility and respect for others is the key to a thriving, effective and efficient workplace. And because we can’t all know what everyone else is “sensitive” to, we absolutely need to have a culture where people are aware of and empathetic to others’ needs and comfortable to talk about them.
This kind of workplace culture is also the key to minimizing or even eliminating harassment and discrimination.
The next time you think to yourself that someone at work is asking too much or taking it too far, recognize that just because we can talk about inappropriate romantic advances these days it does not mean that everyone else who has a bone to pick is “sensitive.”
It means it’s their turn to be recognized and educate others about what’s inappropriate for them personally or their group.
Hopefully, in 25 years they’ll be at a conference sharing stories about some form of progress too. Maybe even more progress than we’ve made so far with sexual harassment.
Catherine & the Civility Partners Team
P.S If your workforce is in California, we’d be happy for them to join our free harassment prevention training on October 24 at 2pm. As you can imagine, our version of this training is much more useful than the compliance-focused options out there.
Indeed, you’ll be compliant AND your workforce will gain impactful insight on negative behavior and their role in a respectful workplace culture.