Archive for workplace communications

Micro-Aggression: A New Breed of Bully

While at the latest TriState HRMA dinner meeting, I sat in awe watching the evening’s speaker, Jonathan Segal Esq., flawlessly cover the topic of Systemic Harassment. One of the phrases that stuck out from the crowd was that of “Micro-aggression”. Jonathan went on to explain that this term refers to “a non-legalistic jargon of subtle or indirect harassment”.

It is here that I state the obvious but necessary disclaimer – nothing you read here is to be considered legal advice or endorsements of any kind by Jonathan or his employer.  All are simply my thoughts. In fact, I only mention him because his knowledge on topic was so impressive and his use of the word “micro-aggression” made a professional connection with me …and boy was he funny!

Micro-Aggression: A New Breed of Bully?

The term itself reminds me of the numerous, and unfortunate, times that I’ve heard employees claim to be verbally abused or “bullied”. A topic that I’ve written about and discussed with employees on countless occasions. Micro-aggression indeed.

definition of microaggression

In a world of increasing awareness on harassment related words, actions or intentions, the objective is to recognize and be sensitive to ANY potentially harmful activity…especially while at work.  Not a new concept, but one needing to be discussed in any employer, leadership or workplace capacity.

How often do you find yourself in a conversation with a bully? I’m not talking about someone physically pushing you around – I’m talking about the bully that wounds with words. Pushy abrasive types usually KNOW they’re being a jerk. The dangerous ones are the unintentional bullies that are completely unaware of how much power their words actually wield. They tend to exercise control over conversations by insulting, hurting or belittling the person they’re speaking to, without the intention or the realization that they have. I call them “Bullies by Tongue”…and now, thanks to Jonathan, we know they have an official name in the employee relations industry.

You’re not a micro-aggressive bully are you? It’s important to know how to tell.dont take it seriously

  1. The Disrespectful Bully speaks without thinking. This type of offender often blames (or pretends to) the fact that they’re joking.  They’ll make excuses and rarely take responsibility for hurting someone because, after all, there were “just joking”. A clearly passive-aggressive form of verbally hurting people, this bully might even turn the blame onto to victim, whose pain tends to build as they fall prey to self-doubt.
  2. The Hard of Hearing Bully is the one I get the most complaints about as an HR professional. For some reason, this type seems to think that if they speak AT you rather than WITH you, you’ll hear them more clearly, or perhaps follow their instructions better. Let’s face it, they simply shout with the intent to use intimidation or fear to motivate others.  The longer this bully’s tactics is successful, the more often they’ll use it.
  3. The Helpful Bully actually believes they’re giving sage advice. Off-putting phrases make people uncomfortable and create a negative platform for whatever conversation follows the opening statement. Ask yourself…have you ever started a sentence with these phrases?

• The way I see it…
• Let me tell you something…
• If you were smart, you would…
• You said,…
• That’ll never…

If you find yourself having said ANY of these, find an alternative way to communicate a strong opinion by beginning the sentence with intentional diplomacy and sensitivity.  For detailed examples on why these statements are deemed micro-aggressive (and how to remedy them), make sure to check out Are You a Conversational Bully?

The Discriminatory Bully is the obvious one, but deserves mention. wont teach you to twerkThis type tends to make assumptions of race, color, religious, gender or national origin. Not only does this make for an uncomfortable and hostile work environment, but it’s in direct violation with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  So yes, when you hear someone say ,”Can you do this math problem for me; You’re Asian, right?” they are flirting with employment law…whose assumptions are dangerously less than funny. Hard to believe that in this modern day in society, some folks still think that’s being humorous. #ignoranceisnotfunny


I hope to leave you with food for thought.  Should you recognize yourself in any of these bullies by tongue,  take an inventory of your communication practices and/or that of your co-workers. Employment law continues to define and defend these serious, even when unassuming, offenses. Become aware of your own messaging without allowing an inner bully to lash out.  You can always invite a professional to speak to your management group.

Increase sensitivity in your workplace communication:
Gossip in the Workplace, Friend or Foe?
Sentence starters that Kill your Independence
What is Stealth Communication?

Acceptable Slang…or Lazy Speech?

As a grammar geek, there have always been certain words or phrases that grind on my nerves like the screech of a breaking train barreling toward a sudden stopping point. Correcting your Grammar

Yes, I’ll admit it. I am silently correcting your grammar. And I know I’m not alone.

Perhaps it has become a matter of acceptable slang, or maybe it’s lazy speech turned habit, but somewhere along the way many common words or phrases that are being said incorrectly have become automatic to modern speech. Consequently, it goes beyond knowing when to use the correct versions of ‘to’, ‘too’ or ‘two’ and ‘there’, ‘their’ or ‘they’re’ (insert sound of nails on a chalkboard). The thing is, grammatically knowledgeable people make mistakes too.

Most of us would rather be told about something awkward up front if it could avoid potential embarrassment on a larger scale. Ever find a piece of green leaf (from the lunch you had hours before) wedged between two front teeth? How many people saw the awkward green thing and didn’t tell you? Don’t you wish someone had?

Consider this notice of your awkward green thing.

Part of being a ‘Stealth Communicator’ is becoming more aware of areas for improvement and developing the habit of recognition. Check out the table below of some commonly used mistakes and ask yourself if you’ve fallen prey to the verbal conveniences we call ‘slang’.

Words you can't wrong_tableCan you think of some more? I’d love to hear some of your own pet peeves of mispronunciation, lazy speech and fabricated malarkey…

Other articles you may find interesting:





And/But Theory: The Great Disconnector

I’ve often seen leaders and management unknowingly sabotage their own messaging by adding one itty-bitty word to an otherwise powerful statement.

The age-old discounter, the disconnector. The ‘But’.disconnecting cords

Anyone in a management position that seeks professional improvement can tell you that in order to learn and grow, one must keep reading up on available content. Specifically, the available material on feedback and constructive criticism teach us to frame any message with a positive spin. For instance, “Your strongest skill is your ability to organize.”

Often, this is the set-up phrase that will accomplish several things for the person or employee being spoken to.

  1. Gets them listening. Everyone loves a compliment.
  2. Disarms a defensive listener.
  3. Creates pride in their work.
  4. Establishes your appreciation for their contributions.

A good leader must also be able to deliver negative messages or feedback, including the bad and the super ugly. The goal for each type of message, however, should be the same – to create a learning opportunity and to produce positive results. So starting with the good stuff is purposeful because it puts the listener in a positive position to hear more.

Even with a positive start, breaking the bad news is too often done like this; “Your strongest skill is your ability to organize, but your attendance is unreliable.”

The fact is that the positive message (“your strongest skill is your ability to organize”) is overshadowed by the second part of that sentence (“your attendance is unreliable”) due to use of the word “but”. Whether intentionally or subliminally, squeezing that itty-bitty-but word into the sentence packs a punch and communicates some very clear messages;

  • You’ve discounted the positive thing.
  • The first thing is LESS important than the last.
  • You are displeased with them as a whole.

Overcome the “BUT” by consciously exchanging it for the powerful word “AND”, the most comprehensive of all Golden Linkconnectors. This accomplishes your intent to recognize the good stuff while addressing areas for improvement. A golden link of both parts, so to speak.

It’s not always easy, but creating the habit of using AND instead of BUT can change the way people feel about your feedback, while lending truth and validity to each point you make.

For more material on Powerful Phrasing, check out the following content:

Shut Your Pie Hole: A Lesson in Listening

A colleague and I were recently discussing the ongoing challenge of helping people learn how to communicate more efficiently with their peers, co-workers and subordinate staffing. As a company, we persistently train on positive communication, choosing words wisely, using diplomacy, exercising conflict resolution tactics….and still our leaders in management are feeling repetitive and misunderstood. Why aren’t these fundamental skills being transferred to the employee in a way that helps everyone understand each other?

Amidst the frustration-laced conversation, Colleague says, “Can you just find a non-offensive and professional way to tell people to SHUT THEIR PIE HOLE and listen first?!”

Challenge accepted.

It’s often overlooked that listening is at least 50% of the components needed for effective communication.  Choice of words, tone of voice, body language and demeanor all comprise a combination of the other half. Why is listening important?  Because so much of the message that is exchanged depends on how we understand what is said by the other person. But why is it so challenging just to listen?

Listening doesn’t always come easily.  There is so much going on in our brains already; Generally,the intent to reply

  • We want our side to be heard
  • We’re already thinking about how we’ll respond, even while the other person’s still talking
  • We tend to want to interrupt, whether due to excitement, disrespect or disagreement
  •  Our face wears our reactions to what’s being said, whether good or bad
  •  Sometimes, in an argumentative scenario, we simply want to “win”

Effective listening is an acquired skill – and we have to practice it consistently in order to make it a good habit.   Listed below are NineListening Intentions that help polish our active listening skills;

1.       Keep quiet while someone else is speaking.  Avoiding interruption makes you a respectful conversationalist. People don’t always need to be right, sometimes they just need to feel heard.

2.       Avoid distractions. Give what you expect – if you want someone to listen to you, make sure you pay it forward, give them your attention and focus on the message you’re hearing.

3.       Offer unbroken eye contact. To look away portrays disinterest, apathy or indifference.

4.       Nodding adds a level of engagement and acknowledges that they are being heard.

5.       Tilting of the head signals interest and subconsciously shows concern in what’s being said.

6.       Relax body language. Minimizing gestures and motions can avoid putting the other person on edge or in defense mode. Watch any urges to squint or roll the eyes, arch your brows or shrug shoulders.

7.       Ask for clarification. If something isn’t 100% clear to you, don’t hesitate to ask for more detail.  Rather than offend someone, this tactic usually shows that you care to understand. Most would rather clarify themselves than to be misunderstood.

8.       Engage in repetition. Restating what you believe you’ve heard not only proves your engagement in the conversation, but also allows for the opportunity to be corrected if you’ve misunderstood.

9.       Sharpen your skills with listening games, activities or exercises.  Practice may not make ‘perfect’, but it certainly can make ‘better’.

Check back for a complete list of listening games and exercises for leaders, teams and staff in  my next post.

Gossip in the Workplace: Friend or Foe?

When used appropriately, gossip can be an influential interpersonal communication tool and a lighthearted way of spreading information. As luck would have it, the same concept that creates bonds and builds relationships can often rear an ugly head.


According to Wikipedia,  gossip is idle talk or rumor, especially about personal or private affairs of others. The term is often used to specifically refer to the spreading of dirt and misinformation, as (for example) through excited discussion of scandals.

Nigel Nicholson of Psychology Today magazine recognizes, “there are three very essential functions of gossip: networking, influence and social alliances.”  It’s also been said that gossip is a way of having intimate conversation between those with similar style, personal and domestic or workplace scope and setting, while providing the comfort of validation and camaraderie. The challenge becomes drawing (and to keep from crossing) the line between sharing information and being hurtful to the reputation of yourself and others.

Learning to balance over that line with the ease of an expert takes conscious effort and a careful attention to detail. Simply calling gossip “networking” introduces the risk of overlooking (or straight-up ignoring) the dangers that lurk in the workplace. Unfortunately, it seems that the cons outweigh the pros in this potentially harmful practice.

The CONS of Workplace Gossip

  • Spreading wrong information
  • Loss of productivity and habitual wasting of time
  • Erosion of trust and morale
  • Divisiveness among employees as people take sides or “gang up on others”
  • Increased anxiety among employees as rumors circulate without clear factual evidence
  • Hurt feelings and reputations; feeling attacked or targeted
  • Being perceived as unprofessional
  • Disrespect toward supervision
  • Disconnect to company brand loyalty
  • Turnover increases due to good employees leaving what they perceive as an unhealthy work environment or atmosphere.
  • Costly Legal Ramifications: bullying, libel, hostile workplace and harassment case filings

How Can I Avoid Gossiping at Work?

Following some basic guidelines to gossip will allow for maintaining strong bonds OUTside the workplace without sabotaging accomplishments IN the workplace.

  1. Never engage in gossip that is purely associated with malicious content and intent. To hurt someone else does not make you the better person. Ever.
  2. Avoid disclosing pay rates and earnings information. It is no one’s business what you make, just as it’s not your business what anyone else makes. Similarly, discussion about whether or not you find your boss’ pay fair and reasonable is completely inappropriate.
  3. Don’t discuss social plans or un-work-related activities during a shift, meeting or company function. To portray yourself as anything less than focused on your work is a disservice to those who are. Off-site and off-shift (ie., home, parking lot or on your cell phone after hours) are more appropriate times and places for social conversation.
  4. If you question a co-worker’s opinion or decision, discuss it with them in private. Never challenge, embarrass or deface someone’s character in front of an audience of mutual peers or associates. The term “peer” indicates a certain level of respect.
  5. Obtaining a good lead or gaining insider commentary is a benefit of communication with friends, but can lead to loss of trust from your associates and coworkers when you are careless with their tips.
  6. Never recite, even in jest, a friend or co-worker’s social misadventures to your mutual work associates. We are all entitled to a personal life, as well as a private one. What happens between friends outside the office should stay there. Far too often, juicy stories can result in the loss of respect from fellow peers and associates for the both of you.
  7. If irreconcilable differences do occur, keep in mind that while your out-of-office relationship (romantic or otherwise) may be over, chances are you still need to work together to some degree. Be sure to cut ties in a clean and professional manner and bear in mind that no one needs to know what happened between you. We don’t always have to like the people we work with, but we DO have to do our jobs to the best of our ability.

Other networking success resources:

Have I missed some pitfalls of gossip in the workplace?  Please share your advice on keeping positive communication a priority at work…