Lynne Curry: Don't let couple's comment ruin another Easter meal

ManagementMarch 31, 2013 

Q. Every year at Easter, my partner travels out of state to be with her mom. As we've not "come out" as a gay couple to her family, I stay here. Last year a co-worker invited me to her home for an Easter meal and I gladly accepted, only to regret it and ultimately decide to quit my job as a result.

As soon as we sat down to dinner, my co-worker and her husband explained to me that they found my gay lifestyle abhorrent. I almost choked on the slice of ham I'd put in my mouth, which kept me from saying something I might have regretted. Later, however, what rankled most was that I hadn't defended myself.

Fast forward -- I've been invited to my new boss's house for an Easter brunch. She's invited most of the office and I'd like to go but I'm afraid to risk it. What should I do?

A. Accept the invitation and have a great time.

Few individuals invite others to a meal and then rake them over the coals. Although I don't know what led a former co-worker to think telling you to live your life differently made for good table conversation, why carry that incident forward into your current work life?

If your new boss or co-worker tries to carve you instead of the ham, simply respond that while "we share a work life, my personal life and decisions are private."

In other words, don't expect the worst -- but if it comes, handle it.

Q. My co-worker hums "If I had a brain" as he passes my desk. When I speak in staff meetings, he rolls his eyes and makes subtly caustic comments. I've tried to ignore him but he's getting to me and I can feel myself wanting to blast back.

My supervisor is no help. I let him know what was going on, expecting he'd talk with my co-worker. He looked at me like I was wasting his time and said, "Deal with it."

A. So deal.

Your co-worker has taken the rope you handed him by allowing his comments to pass unchallenged and made a hammock from which he now comfortably slings insults your way.

Make the situation less comfortable for him. Arm yourself with prepared responses to his wisecracks. Staff meeting snipers generally can't handle taking what they dish out.

Don't, however, lose your temper or sink to his level of nastiness. Bullies thrive on button pushing. If you respond in anger, you give this guy the fix he craves. When you take him by surprise with a well-worded comeback, you ruin his game.

Q. Although I've told our employees not to talk on their cellphones while driving, one of my senior staff members continues to do so. Every day she calls our receptionist or her co-workers when she's driving to ask for directions to client meetings or relay messages.

I've counseled her and she's aware of the policy. She says she's very careful and would toss down the cellphone in a moment if she felt at risk.

I haven't come down on her because I use my cell when driving when road conditions make it safe.

A. Employees distracted by talking on a cellphone have caused accidents resulting in deaths, injuries and multimillion-dollar verdicts against their employees.

You can't, however, enforce a rule that you violate or let others ignore.

You need to decide: Is that a rule or not? If you want the rule, set the example and enforce it with everyone.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at lynne@thegrowthcompany.com You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com.

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