March 18, 2016

How to Lead Through Communication: Dealing with Harassment

How to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace? How to communicate in such situation?

I published this article on my blog Your Life and Business (it is closed to public now) some years ago. The article immediately attracted enormous readers’ attention and became one of their favorite articles:

John was still waiting for Ruth. They wanted to go and have lunch together because Ruth had something to tell him. John was extremely curious, though he knew she might have some problems with Ron. “Excuse me for being late,” said Ruth when she entered the office “let’s go. I am very hungry.” They went to a small café just around the corner. It was a quiet place where they could talk.

Surprisingly, the café was almost full but they found a free table. Ruth ordered her favorite ranch salad and John – a club sandwich. “You can’t imagine how I missed a club sandwich on holiday,” John said trying to start a conversation. That was him – always when Ruth had problems John seemed to be relaxed but remained on full alert. Ruth opened her bag, took out an envelope and put it on the table. John looked at it with interest: it was a white envelope without a recipient’s address. He wondered what was inside but said nothing. Ruth was not relaxed at all. She took a deep breath: “What do you think about Ron?” she asked. John frowned: “Is something wrong?”

John’s mind raced, and he thought quickly; should he tell Ruth what he knew or maybe it’s better to say nothing.” Ruth continued eating her salad as if she hadn’t heard John. “Is something wrong?” he repeated. “Nothing at all. Hm.. I had a meeting with Ron. He was a bit weird,” Ruth said. John gave her a quizzical look. “Of course, I am going to tell you .. but I can’t …,” she whispered and looked around “he made some compliments that were not very appropriate in business. But in some other situation they might be OK. I am so confused.” John was confused too.

“I met Ron some five years ago when we both worked as part of a project team in Berlin. We fell in love with each other but later….” Ruth continued, “I thought the relationship was over years ago. Why? He married my best friend…I don’t know what he wants now but I feel some pressure.” John couldn’t understand what was going on and tried to calm Ruth: “Hey, don’t feel so bad. Please, at least, explain what kind of compliments he gave you.” Ruth hesitated. She always wanted to be strong, independent, and empowered. She was not sure whether she should tell John everything. But it was ridiculous to start a conversation and be almost closemouthed. John tried to help her: “Well, if you are not sure about his compliments, perhaps this is a case of sexual harassment. What do you think?” Ruth shook her head: “No. I don’t want to make any harassment claim. Besides, even if there was something, I would be fearful of the rumor mill.” John sat quietly watching Ruth and wondered whether he should tell her that Ron was going to the happy hour event, and what he had said about her. After a short time he said as calmly as he could: “OK, perhaps you should tell Ron that you don’t like his behavior. And… Maybe it’s my fault but I’ve invited Ron to join the team tomorrow at the happy hour event. Hm…Is he still married?” Ruth raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders: “I don’t know… Oh, my god…Sorry, I have to run now. Mrs. Smith should be waiting for me. It’s really urgent.”

When Ruth was about to leave, John asked her to meet later. She nodded and left the café. John couldn’t stop thinking about her. Suddenly he saw the envelope on the table: “has she forgotten it?” The envelope was closed. John began to realize he had to solve a very tough and delicate problem…

Please feel free to write a comment which I would really appreciate.

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