In this time of increased awareness towards political correctness, it seems that it has become difficult to avoid offending your co-workers. Jokes once accepted at work can now get you in trouble if heard by the wrong ears. This is particularly true if you’re dealing with testy co-workers who seem to just get offended at the slightest provocation.
Now don’t get me wrong. Increased awareness of political correctness in the workplace is a good thing. It raises awareness towards issues like sexual harassment and bigotry, which were swept under the rug before. In general, it makes the workplace a safer and more inclusive place for every employee. Political correctness only becomes an issue if it’s done in excess.
To help you avoid workplace conflicts, here are six easy steps to avoid offending your co-workers. In addition to these steps, I will also talk about what you should do if you accidentally offend someone at work.
Observe Your Company’s Work Culture First.
One of the first steps in avoiding conflict with your co-workers is to observe your company’s work culture. This lets you in on the dynamics between your co-workers and how to interact with them in return. Knowing this helps you avoid coming off as disrespectful or arrogant to your seniors. While also guiding you on who to turn to if you need help at work.
Knowing your company’s work culture also helps you know which topics to avoid conversing or joking with your co-workers as well. If, for example, your co-workers are open-minded and aren’t averse to dark humor, then by all means.
Watch Your Words.
I don’t think this needs further explanation. Really, if you want to avoid being offensive to your co-workers, simply watch what you say or type when conversing with them. Simple, right? In practice, not so much.
This is especially true if you’ve grown accustomed to your co-workers and vice versa. Just because you’re now friends with them doesn’t mean you can throw controversial or inappropriate words at them and call it a joke. There still needs to be a level of professionalism and respect in your interactions with them if you want them to do the same to you.
Don’t Ask Sensitive Questions to Your Co-workers.
The next step is something that I think some workers overlook, probably because it’s common sense. If you really want to avoid offending your co-workers, you never ask sensitive questions to them. Aside from being common courtesy, it shows you are respecting their privacy.
An example of a sensitive question you should avoid is asking a co-worker with a disability what’s it like to be them. Yes, your intentions may not be to insult them, but your co-workers may not interpret your actions that way, even if they’re your friends. To be safe, ask first if you can talk about these kinds of topics before asking to avoid offending your co-workers or friends.
Avoid Unnecessarily Helping Your Co-workers.
Harmful words aren’t the only way you can accidentally offend your co-workers. Sometimes, your good acts can also send the wrong message to them as well.
Take helping them at their work without them asking for it as an example. Sure, in your perspective, you’re just trying to help a co-worker in need. But in their perspective, they might see it as you interfering with their work, or you’re just showing off to them.
To avoid this, always ask your co-worker first if they need any help or wait for them to ask for help before helping. Doing so at least makes it clear that you’re there to help, not to show off or take credit for their work.
Be Aware of the Cultural Differences in Your Workplace.
A common cause for workspace conflict, especially with a remote work setup, is cultural differences. A joke that may be okay to you may not be to your foreign co-worker, for example. Or, a curious question from you regarding your co-worker’s country can be interpreted as an insult by them.
Whenever we talk about cultural differences, we usually think it’s differences between people of different ethnicities when that’s not always the case. Cultural differences can also exist between employees from different economic backgrounds or provinces. So be careful the next time you tell a joke about your co-worker’s origins, as they might not see it as a joke.
Don’t Take Everything Personally.
And for my last step in avoiding offending your co-workers, if you’re going to engage in banter with them, make sure you don’t get insulted yourself. If you take their banter personally, you’re going to say something that you may regret later on. So if you’re easily offended yourself, it may be wise to avoid bantering with your co-workers to avoid any issues.
Of course, bantering isn’t the only time when your co-workers may do something that offends you. Maybe they were very critical of your idea during your latest meeting with your boss. Or they haven’t replied yet after messaging them several times already.
Before going off and getting angry at your co-workers, think about why they did what they did objectively first. Perhaps your idea contained several flaws that you need to work on. Maybe they were busy at the moment and couldn’t reply to you. Hasty conclusions only lead to trouble, so take a step back and assess the situation before reacting to your co-workers’ actions.
What to Do if You Accidentally Offended Someone at Work.
Now that you know how to avoid offending your co-workers: let’s now talk about what you should do in case you did offend a co-worker. If this situation happens, here’s what you should do:
This one’s a no-brainer. If you offended your co-worker, you must immediately apologize for what you did. Your apology doesn’t need to be fancy nor long, so long as it’s sincere and done as soon as possible.
When apologizing, it is best to do it privately than publicly. This is because the co-worker you offended may feel pressured to accept your apology or attract unnecessary attention if you apologize publicly.
Avoid Becoming Defensive over Apologizing.
Of course, it might be difficult for you to apologize in the first place if you thought that you didn’t do anything wrong. It was only a joke. Why did they have to get all angry at it, right? That may be true, but the thing is, your co-worker didn’t see it as a joke.
If you want to patch things up with your co-worker, the best thing to do is apologize to them. Being defensive about it will just make you more guilty in the eyes of your co-workers, which could lead to more problems.
Give Them Time.
After apologizing, if they haven’t immediately responded to your apology, don’t demand an immediate reply. Give your co-worker time to respond to your apology, particularly if you’ve greatly offended them. If you’re really sorry about what happened, there’s nothing more you can do but wait for their response.
And there you have it. Here are the six steps to follow to avoid offending your co-workers; and what to do if you did by accident. These tips may seem simple and easy enough to follow, but that is precisely why they need to be constantly reminded. It is so easy to overlook them.
So, I hope that this article helps you make your workplace more inclusive and welcoming to your co-workers. Having a safe workspace helps improve employee productivity and keeps workspace morale up, after all.