Uncomfortable Conversations in The Workplace
It has been a long, long while since either Alexa or I have worked in a traditional workplace, but we both have acute memories of sexual harassment in the workplace.
If I received training on sexual harassment, I have ZERO memory of it. I’m sure I was made aware of my rights at some point but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. In my case, I wasn’t the victim of sexual harassment but rather, witness to it along with other inappropriate behaviors. Most notably, two people in my department, one senior to the other, were carrying on a sexual affair behind a closed office door that was part of a lounge/break room. Imagine! We’re sitting around a table eating our lunches, while two people are having S-E-X RIGHT THERE and we all knew it.
Did we do anything besides talk about it behind their backs? NOPE. I mean, it was UNCOMFORTABLE but it was also supposedly a relationship between two consenting adults. The power differential here complicates thing– how much of the relationship was built on pressure from the senior staff member? We’ll never know.
What I do know is that there were no “uncomfortable conversations” happening around sexual harassment in my workplace. Breaking The Silence Habit: A Practical Guide to Uncomfortable Conversations In The #MeToo Workplace by Sarah Beaulieu is the book that every person holding a leadership role in their company or organization needs. You might remember Sarah from the fantastic but sobering interview we did with her last year.
Breaking The Silence Habit helps companies move past the status quo sexual harassment training by providing guidance for deeper conversations around assumptions, perceptions, fears and plain old misinformation. What employees really need is the opportunity to practice uncomfortable conversations, with each other and with their managers or superiors. This is, indeed, a practical guide because it provides scenarios to present in the training, and prompts for starting and guiding the conversation to help the group come to a definition of sexual harassment that is meaningful and arm them with tools they need to navigate uncomfortable or awkward conversations in a way that aligns with their comfort level or values but still allows them to comply with company policy.
Even if you are not in a leadership role at your company, Breaking The Silence Habit will prove useful for navigating uncomfortable conversations in other situations. I really appreciated having the language to use because I find that is the hardest part for me– What do I say?, and how do I say it in a way that makes the conversation productive?
Sarah expertly guides the reader along the path to the uncomfortable conversation, knowing that certain things need to be in place before a conversation can happen. For example, managers need to know how to make the environment a safe place for such conversations, taking into account the experience that employees may or may not have with sexual harassment or sexual assault, and being sensitive to the needs of survivors, whether or not their identities are known. The book also includes an assessment that managers can give to their team in order to customize the training to their organization’s particular starting point or needs.
As the founder of The Uncomfortable Conversation, Sarah is undoubtedly qualified to write this book. She has dedicated her life, personally and professionally, to helping us create a safer world for men and women alike. She avoids the dangerous polarization of the sexes, pitting women against men, recognizing that men, too, are products of their experience and environment without absolving them of responsibility for their behavior. Change starts with all of us, and starts with compassion, and our willingness to have the uncomfortable conversation.
Buy Breaking The Silence Habit: A Practical Guide to Uncomfortable Conversations In The #MeToo Workplace on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
More About The Book:
Top consultant Sarah Beaulieu offers a five-part framework that enables employees to have difficult but necessary conversations about sexual harassment and violence and develop new, better ways of working together.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, employees and leaders are struggling with how to respond to the pervasiveness of sexual harassment. Most approaches simply emphasize knowing and complying with existing laws. But people need more than lists of dos and don’ts–they need to learn how to navigate this uncertain, emotionally charged terrain. Sarah Beaulieu provides a new skills-based approach to addressing sexual harassment prevention and response in the workplace, including using underdeveloped skills like empathy, situational awareness, boundary setting, and intervention.
Beaulieu outlines a five-part framework for having conversations about sexual harassment: Know the Facts; Feel Uncomfortable; Get Curious, Not Furious; See the Whole Picture; and Embrace Practical Questions. By embracing these conversations, we can break the cycle of avoidance and silence that makes our lives and workplaces feel volatile and unsafe. Grounded in storytelling, humor, and dozens of real-life scenarios, this book introduces the idea of uncomfortable conversation as the core skill required to enable everyone to bring their full talent and contributions to safe and respectful workplaces.