109: Stand Up to Disrespectful Behavior with Emily May

Disrespect in the workplace rarely begins with full blown harassment. Before it escalates, teams often see signs of demeaning behavior such as ignoring someone’s contributions, off-colored jokes, and intentional undermining. As a manager, and good human, it’s your responsibility to end these minor offenses before they become normalized, leading to much worse.

Today’s guest is Emily May. Emily is an international leader in the movement to end harassment — in all its forms. In 2005, at the age of 24, she co-founded Hollaback! in New York City, and in 2010 she became its first full-time executive director. Our executive director has also won many awards for her leadership, including the TEDCity 2.0 Prize. Emily has a Master’s Degree in Social Policy from the London School of Economics, is an Ashoka Fellow and a Prime Movers Fellow.

Emily shares the 5 Ds of bystander intervention, explaining various ways you can help when you notice disrespectful behaviors in your workplace.

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Read the related blog article: What To Do When You Witness Disrespect In The Workplace

Key Takeaways:

  • There is a spectrum of disrespectful behaviors ranging from mild – not listening to each other, intentional undermining, shaming via jokes – to severe – harassing comments, sexual innuendos, inappropriate touching.
  • Cultures that accept mild behaviors tend to slowly accept more aggressive ones. It’s important to interrupt small behaviors so they don’t take root.
  • Don’t wait until it ‘qualifies’ as harassment and requires attention from HR. Use the 5 Ds to appropriately interrupt disrespectful behaviors.
  • The 5 Ds of bystander intervention: Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, Direct.
  • Distract: create a distraction that redirects attention, giving both parties a chance to disengage. Try engaging the person experiencing the disrespect in a conversation or asking for their help. Or, make a commotion.
  • Delegate: find the appropriate authority or someone else to help with the situation. This may be an HR team member or a nearby colleague who is more comfortable engaging.
  • Document: capture the situation – who, what, when, where – and give the documentation to the person being disrespected so they can decide what to do with that information. Documenting is critical because memories are fallible and a paper-trail will be useful if further action is needed in the future.
  • Delay: check in with the person being targeted after to see if they’re OK and what they need. Simply acknowledging what happened can reduce the impact of trauma. Ignoring it compounds the experience because you feel like no one has your back.
  • Direct: confront the initiator and let them know their behavior is not acceptable. If a comment is disrespectful, try asking the person to clarify what they mean.
  • Regardless of the in-the-moment tactic, as a manager, you need to follow up with the offender and let them know their behavior is not acceptable in the workplace.
  • It’s normal to worry about your own safety or job security or consequence of engaging. That’s why you need to choose the D that feels best to you. Direct intervention is rarely the optimal approach.
  • Harassment and disrespectful behaviors show up in all kinds of teams – in person and virtual – and takes many forms – racism, sexism, ableism, etc. There is no place for any of it in a healthy workplace culture.

Additional Resources:

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