DEAR VEXED: I work with a guy that has highly disturbing views about women and minorities – he’s always making quips and I find them really difficult to live with. On one hand I don’t want to start a fight or create tension, but on the other, his remarks have become really bothersome and I almost feel it’s my moral duty to say something. What should I do? Jack, 34, management consultant
UNLESS you have – or are planning on developing – a personal, non-professional relationship with this person, his political views are not your battle to fight. Your moral indignation is understandable, but it’s irrelevant. His views don’t matter in relation to you – and they certainly shouldn’t have an impact on your life. You don’t need to like him, approve of him, or anything else. You just need to be able to get your work done.
Which leads me to the next point. The ability to work in an appropriate environment is your right. And if this person expresses views that routinely unsettle you, they probably unsettle others. If he’s expressing views that could lead to or count as harassment of women or minorities, then he’s an actual, tangible liability, not just within the office but in terms of possible reputational damage to your organisation.
In general, the best way to approach issues like this is by being direct. Try saying to this person something along the lines of: “Mate, you’re free to your own views. But if you could keep the most offensive ones to yourself in the office, I’d appreciate it. It makes me, and I assume others, very uncomfortable.” You can solve a lot of problems this way – think of how rarely someone jabbering during a film refuses to shut up when you ask them to.
But if you get nowhere with this approach, it’s time to take the matter further with a little trip to HR. Your colleague could get in deep water if his casual slurs are felt to veer into harassment, so you could make him aware of your intentions to pop along if he doesn’t curb his chat. It might motivate him to keep quiet, once and for all.
As for moral duty, it’s your duty not to enter into a love affair or friendship with someone who sees the world in such a way. That is how you would betray yourself. You must boycott him, as it were, on any level but the strictly professional. And with any luck, he’ll pipe down and that will become a good deal easier.