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MENTOR - CAREER CLINIC

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Question...
Question

I am the only man in an office of women. Most of my colleagues are about 10-15 years older and treat me like the office 'pet', though some are junior to me. They comment on my clothes, sex life and sexuality. Most of this is meant in good fun and I usually laugh along. But after a year it's getting a bit tiresome. I have an appraisal soon and would like to bring it up with my boss, who does not join in with this banter. How can I get it to stop without appearing like a whinger?

Answer

The life of a pet is pleasant and you get nice strokes from time to time. The only trouble is that you surrender your freedom - and self-respect. Even if the behaviour passes as 'fun', it is disrespectful and possibly abusive. But you've gone along with it and this is how it has been sustained.

Their behaviour sounds more like a clumsy version of mother/teenage son joshing to me. However, I notice that you seem to be looking to your boss to sort this out for you. Can you see that this just perpetuates the same old pattern? You would be asking your boss to behave as a more powerful parent while you remain in that childlike role. It would convey that you are too helpless to deal with it yourself. What you need is to establish an adult-to-adult relationship with your colleagues first, then involve your boss if necessary.

I don't underestimate the difficulty of this. But to change the behaviour of others you first have to change your own - because this is the only thing that is totally under your own control. As the saying has it, behaviour breeds behaviour.

First, stop laughing at their jokes. Ignore the comments. This will be puzzling and they will step up the pressure. You need to remain impassive: hold your nerve, though inside you will feel anxious. The dominant woman will eventually ask what's going on. You then calmly, looking her in the eye, tell her you dislike their behaviour and want it to stop.

Describe what you would like to see instead. Have these statements ready. Make sure they sound dignified, with no hint of whining. This will feel uncomfortable and will take courage. But you have every right to ask for what you want and to object to behaviour that you find offensive.

Jenny Rogers

Management coach and director, Management Futures

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