Imagine yourself in a situation like this one: Pamela is sitting in her office one day and Beth comes in. She’s upset: “Eddie asked me out and I said no, but he’s not getting it.”
Eddie is one of Beth’s co-workers, who also reports to Pamela.
Now, Pamela really likes Eddie. He’s fun-loving. Popular with his fellow workers. And, Pamela feels, he’s totally harmless. Beth, on the other hand, is a bit of a wet blanket. Her peers see her as a whiner.
So Pamela says, “Beth, we don’t have a non-fraternization policy at our company. We don’t prevent employees from dating. So there’s not much I can do. I suggest you try what I do when I don’t care for a guy who asks me out. Be polite but assertive and say, ‘Eddie, I appreciate your asking, but I’m not interested.’ ”
Beth says, “Well, I’m not sure ….”
Pamela adds, “Oh, and one more thing, look him right in the eye when you say it. That’s always worked for me. Why don’t you give it a try?”
“Um, okay,” says Beth, and she leaves.
Pamela has made a huge blunder. She didn’t listen, and she didn’t act on what was probably a sexual harassment complaint. Her mistake could easily result in a lawsuit.
Now, it may turn out that there’s no harassment going on here. Maybe Beth really is just a whiner.
But the point is, Pamela doesn’t know for sure. And instead of probing with targeted questions to find out the real nature of Beth’s problem, Pamela jumped to the conclusion that Beth simply didn’t know how to discourage a suitor. She may well have misdiagnosed the problem and offered advice that was way off-base.
The lesson for managers: Never ignore a complaint that has the faintest whiff of harassment or discrimination. Document it, let HR know and follow up to be sure it’s resolved.
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