Pick your battles and speak with purpose, experts say
Feel free to chip in your two cents — but it might cost you.
As hordes of celebs rushed to condemn accused sexual predator Harvey Weinstein and share their own tales of harassment and assault at his hands, two responses stood in stark contrast: Lindsay Lohan’s claim in a since-deleted Instagram video that she felt “very bad” for the disgraced producer, and designer Donna Karan’s questioning whether women were “asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality.”
After their comments stoked outrage, Lohan told the Daily Mail she was “saddened” by the Weinstein allegations and said accusers should report their experiences to the authorities. Karan apologized and insisted in a statement she’d been taken out of context — though a boycott of her DKNY label, with which she’s no longer affiliated, was already underway.
Lohan and Karan come from “positions of power” with massive followings, etiquette expert Thomas P. Farley pointed out, making a direct parallel to the workplace difficult. But plenty have weighed whether to chime in on a hot topic at work — especially with an unpopular opinion. Here’s what experts said about when and how to do it:
Avoid talking about these topics altogether. Most experts agree that polarizing issues like religion, politics and sex are a no-go at work. “Sit on it, forget about it, recognize it for what it is and just focus on your work,” leadership expert Todd Dewett told Moneyish.
Pick your battles. Beyond those topics, ask yourself, “does this matter, how important is it, how much am I willing to spend on it, before you jump in,” leadership expert Todd Dewett told Moneyish. You might consider speaking out on something that has an effect on you or your job, or on an ongoing situation as opposed to an isolated incident, said business communications expert Barbara Pachter. “If you become somebody who picks a battle on every little thing, you lose credibility,” she said. Make sure you’re not just reacting to feeling hurt or upset, added Denise Spatafora, a business strategist and consultant.
Realize it can be important to speak up, especially with respect to racism, sexism and other workplace injustices, Farley said. “In those instances … there’s no question that someone who has integrity needs to speak up, and I do think that there’s strength in numbers.” If you’re just starting your career and lack the confidence to speak up, look for allies to help, he added.
Speak with purpose. Think about “what is your intention, what is your goal … and how do you say it in a way someone can hear it,” Spatafora said. “Do you want to spew? Is that your intention? Because that’s probably a reaction.”
Ask clarifying questions. Try to learn about the other side by asking “clarifying questions,” Protocol School of Washington president Pamela Eyring told Moneyish. “Maybe it’ll persuade you and maybe it won’t,” she said. “But at least you will have asked and you won’t put your head in the sand.”
If you’re a high-performing employee, said Dewett, you might escape unscathed after joining a hot-topic discussion — so long as you “know how to communicate in a way that does not present your view as opposing them, but simply sharing a different perspective.”
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