Management experts on dealing with harassment from jealous colleagues
Oliver Stone stepped in it when he implied that Megyn Kelly got her recent interview with Russian president Vladimir Putin because she was attractive. “Megyn’s prettier…I don’t have legs or a dress like Megyn.” the 70-year-old “Wall Street” director, whose upcoming “The Putin Interviews” documentary series drops next week, told Page Six. “She is a beautiful specimen, but was not prepared the way I was.”
Stone’s comments are familiar to professionals—many of them women—who’ve felt their accomplishments undercut by their appearance. New York executive coach Jane Cranston recalls receiving a gift box earlier in her career after a big promotion. Within it was a used condom and a message: “Since you’re already sleeping with them, you might as well work with them too.” “Whether you’re male or female, you shouldn’t be held to different standards,” says Cranston. “Nobody’s asking if Oliver Stone is a beautiful specimen. He objectified her.”
Experts say that there are ways to deal with such inappropriateness at work regardless if you’re a confrontational person or not. For the latter, the key is addressing it privately and with a sense of humor. “Take the person aside and say you know it was a good natured comment on their part, but others don’t realize the work you do when the person puts it that way,” says Debra Benton, co-author of “The Leadership Mind Switch.” The point is to get the person to walk back their remarks in a meeting with the original attendees, something Benton says you’re more likely to succeed at if you do it with a relaxed smile.
For those more comfortable with confrontation, jump on the remark immediately but politely. “It has to be calm confrontation,” says Cranston. “Tell the person you have difficulty understanding how one links to the other and that you’re happy to speak about your work performance if it’s relevant.”
Others agree. Benton recommends calmly asking the critic what they mean. Typically, they’ll stumble and say they’re kidding because the expectation is that you’ve laughed it off. “With a relaxed smile, ask a second time and a third. He’s digging a deeper hole,” she says.
If you’re a third party in such a conversation, you shouldn’t stay mum either. Indeed, if you’re a manager, there’s an obligation to set a good example. “You can’t slip up and do it one time after a few beers or at a golf course with the guys,” says Benton. She also recommends that bosses constantly stress the importance of respect when communicating. “Tell employees if they have a problem with the way someone is doing something, talk to them about it without accusations. There should be no ‘drive-by’ shootings on your watch.”
Even if you have less authority than the offending party, you too can do something—albeit more subtly. “It could be job suicide to confront someone more senior publicly,” says Cranston. “But I do think the person could go to their supervisor, explain what was said and why it’s uncomfortable.”
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