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Stop toxic language in the workplace

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in HR Management,Human Resources

If you've ever been a victim of verbal abuse, you know how it can destroy your dignity, motivation and productivity. As one reader recently wrote, “My boss often stomps, shouts, uses foul language and belittles me. How should I handle the situation?”

No one should tolerate that kind of behavior at work, especially from a boss who should be modeling the opposite. Try one of these tactics to deal with abuse before, during and after it rears its ugly head:

Before: Nip it in the bud. If you sense an abusive situation coming, steer the conversation in a more productive direction. Example:

Boss: “Dale, I need to talk to you about this spreadsheet! Didn’t you learn anything in school about —”

Dale (in a direct, but calm voice): “Hold on a minute. Show me exactly what you don’t like and I’ll fix it.”

By refocusing the boss, Dale keeps him or her from ranting about something other than the topic at hand, a document that needs fixing.

During: Walk away. When it becomes obvious that you’re listening to abusive language, look the person directly in the eye and say, “I’ll be happy to talk with you when we can have a rational conversation.”

After: Write it down; talk it through. Let’s say the first and second steps didn’t help you avoid the abuse. It all happened too fast. Then you’ll need to write down what happened. List when and where it occurred, background information, your memory of what the abuser and you said, and any other actions. Writing it down cements the details in your mind.

Then it’s time to talk it through. Start with a trusted friend who can help you sort through your feelings of anger and hurt. Next decide whether to confront the abuser, asking for an apology or attempting to repair the relationship by telling him or her how you wish to be treated in the future.

If that doesn’t get his or her attention, you may decide that one more conversation is needed: with HR or your boss’s boss.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

KastleBravo December 29, 2011 at 6:34 am

I am suprised at how many of the other articles advising victims of a verbally abusive boss to basically “remain calm and maybe they’ll slow down”, or to “think of a happy place” (?!). This article, “Stop toxic language in the workplace”, gets it right. The idea that verbal attacks should not be tolerated needs to reach as wide an audience as possible. Perpetrators of this type of abuse get away it because of the victim’s unwillingness to fight back, and their desire to avoid direct confrontation. The silence of the victim is precisely what the abuser is counting on. Not to mention that standing your ground (or responding in kind) would almost certanly mean losing your job. Being bullied by your boss should be illegal and placed under existing anti-harrasment laws, and should have wording similar to sexual harassment text since the victims don’t necessarily fall into a protected class (such as religion or national origin).


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