Why Im not offended, but I think you might be.

It's a situation a lot of us will recognise. Someone says something in the workplace that is incredibly unhelpful. Maybe it reinforces a stereotype; perhaps it isolates a member of the team, in the worse cases it might even be an attempt to harm a colleague maliciously. Often if we try to suggest someone's language is not appropriate, we are met with a barrage of familiar terms; "don't be so sensitive", "can't you take a joke", or my favourite – "there's no need to be offended".

Here's the thing, I'm not offended, not even a little bit. I've heard statements like these for the past twenty-five years. They are not new or unexpected, they do not shock or surprise, and they certainly don't make me feel resentful or annoyed*. I am merely trying to point out that those statements do not help build a cohesive team, which is pretty much the goal of a productive workplace.

For some reason, any improvements made to the way we communicate with each other can be taken extraordinarily personally. It's almost as if the person who made the initial statement is resentful or annoyed that they have been called out on it.

This is all particularly odd given that we are less likely to do this in other areas of work. Imagine someone instructing the team to splice the rebar at 20mm, and me pointing out that due to its diameter it needs to be 35mm. I wouldn't be called offended for that, and yet it is not dissimilar. The only real difference is how important people view empathy, communication and other peoples experiences.

When someone says something that can harm the team dynamic, it wastes time and costs the business money. Trying to help people understand that there is a better way of communicating is usually designed to improve that.

So when people tell me, I'm offended and make no effort to understand the impact of their actions they miss the mark. I’m not offended; I am however worried that they might not be very good at their job.

*The definition of offended.

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