Friday, 18 October 2013

Offensive? Moi?

Recent days have shown that there's a long way to go with regards communication and understanding in some of our most high-profile workplaces.

 First we had the minefield of whether it's 'sexist' to offer a pregnant woman a seat, with Equalities Minister Jo Swinson 'forced to stand' in a packed House of Commons after arriving late to a debate. He colleagues argued that at seven months pregnant, she was 'quite able' to stand for 30 minutes and to suggest otherwise was patronising. 

The fact is that courtesy should override any argument woman's stability, and a seat should have been found for Ms Swinson who, for all her reassurances that everything's fine, I am certain would have gracefully accepted in the spirit it was offered. 

God knows I'd have kissed the face off anyone who offered me a seat on a packed train when I was pregnant (or as i remember it, doing an impression of the Queen Mary in full sail.

If the time has come when common courtesy, consideration and respect for a woman in the last (often uncomfortable) months of pregnancy is ruled 'sexist', it's a sad day indeed. 

That's the only advice I'd offer workmates in this scenario- be courteous. If you offer a seat or extra help to a pregnant woman, be sure the situation warrants it and that you do it in the spirit of care and consideration. Fussing about like she's made of spun glass won't make you firm friends, but inviting her to tell you what she needs to be comfortable and doing your best to deliver it is absolutely A-OK.

In other news, England's victory and securing of a place at the World Cup in Rio was overshadowed somewhat by a joke manager Roy Hodgson shared with the team at half time. It was an old NASA joke about the menial role of a human astronaut and a highly-trained monkey to illustrate how certain team members needed to support a particular talent, the Press screamed 'racist', believing Roy to be referring to black player Andros Townsend in less than flattering terms. Roy has apologised for any offence caused and his players have all come out in firm support of their boss.

Frankly, if use of the word 'monkey' is automatically assumed to be racist, London Zoo are in serious trouble- as am I every time I call the dog a cheeky one. 

So how do you deal with this issue at work? I always find it's wise to remember that offence is taken, not given. Give both sides a fair hearing. In most cases the person who made the remark is mortified to think that a comment has been taken to heart, and often able to clarify exactly what was said and why. Don't listen to third parties without speaking to those directly involved: in this example the media were busy being professionally offended while Townsend and Hodgson sat bewildered, wondering what the heck was going on in their names. 

We encounter- and negotiate- tricky situations daily at work, and some need careful handling. 

Some, like those above, just need common sense and courtesy.

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