It’s Hard to Speak Up at Work

it's hard to speak up about conflicts at work

In light of the #metoo movement, one thing I continue to see is people admonishing victims for not speaking up sooner. It’s the ultimate defense: if it was so bad, why didn’t you speak up sooner? The thought is that we are all just that comfortable with speaking up against someone higher up or even a peer when they say something that makes us uncomfortable. Kate Bischoff has a great post about how we need to Let Go of Welcomeness in these situations. And I agree because we tend to brush things off that probably shouldn’t be brushed off.

It’s Hard to Speak Up at Work

My Story

Recently, I found myself in a similar situation. Due to past contacts and experience, I had respect for this person, and as a result, I was shocked, wounded, and quite frankly, stupid. My self-assurance diminished. Since this individual has far more experience than I have, I usually defer to them on some decisions. However, if I’m being completely honest, I had previously left interactions with this person feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing (plus I am required to). I’ve argued with this guy before, and we were able to come to a compromise that allowed us to part ways. not this time though. This person intentionally tried to hurt me, to make me feel horrible about myself, to make me doubt my judgment. This person, a professional adult, told me to “Shut up.”

And here’s the thing: I questioned myself the rest of the day of whether or not I should speak up.

This was not a harassing circumstance. There was no bullying. Although it might result in any outcome, this was only one interaction, therefore it falls short of the standards. And how horrible was it really? What if I was simply being overly dramatic? I might have been being overly sensitive. I frequently show my emotions. I cry more easily now that I’m 40, especially when I’m frustrated. Maybe I did it.

But the feelings hung on. All. Day. Long. I left work early because I wasn’t getting anything done. Again, I went back and forth, should I say something? Am I just over-reacting?

I ultimately made the decision to speak with a reliable acquaintance who works for the company. She affirmed that I wasn’t overreacting and that the incident wasn’t harassment or bullying. She assisted me in making the decision to inform my boss. She reminded me that even while being a jerk at work is legal, we don’t have to accept it.

I was fortunate that I had someone to talk to about it. I believe this is who HR needs to be. Employees need a safe place to talk to about these situations to help them decide whether or not to say anything, almost the difference between telling and tattling.

It’s Hard to Speak Up About Bullying at Work

Most employees do not want to get another employee “in trouble,” but they most certainly don’t want to work with or for people who are jerks. And the problem with working with jerks is situations like mine tend to not get reported which means no one is tracking that maybe someone needs some coaching or a performance improvement plan.

Just because a situation isn’t harassment doesn’t mean something cannot be done.

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Wendy Dailey

Wendy Dailey is the HR Business Partner for the Facilities & Services department at SD State University. With almost 20 years of experience in human resources, she assists the department in all their human resources needs, coordinates the training and oversees the IT requirements. She has worked in a wide variety of industries as a certified HR professional, including the airlines, banking and healthcare. Wendy is active in her local SHRM group and brought DisruptHR to the Brookings, SD area. Wendy has a BA from the University of South Dakota. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, leading her daughters’ Girl Scout troops and connecting with other HR professionals on Twitter, @wyndall93 or through her personal blog


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