Dear Evil Skippy:
I did not vote for Donald Trump. One of my co-workers did. Now that I know he’s a racist, sexist jerk, how can I make myself work with him?
— Needs My Job
How? Try slapping some sense into yourself so you can stop whining. You need to act like an emotionally mature grown up instead of a wimpy loser. You were working fine with him before the election. The only thing different now is that you know he voted for someone you did not support.
Be as mad as you want about the election results, but do your job. If your co-worker really is a racist, sexist jerk – he’ll probably do something terrible so you can report him and get him fired. Here’s hoping!
— Evil Skippy
No, no, no – we don’t hope anything terrible happens. We do hope you don’t let your anger and stereotyping interfere with your ability to continue doing job.
Yes. I just called you out for stereotyping. One of the topics that I cover in my classes about diversity, discrimination and workplace harassment is the meaning and potential impacts of stereotypes because stereotyping is often a factor in workplace personality conflicts.
Merriam-Webster defines having a stereotype as “to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same.” They exist in part because the human brain is an amazing wonder of evolution. Without us needing to make any conscious effort to do so, our brains take shortcuts for us all the time. For example, consider the simple act of walking across a room. Can you imagine what it would be like if you actually had to think about each muscle contraction? Walking would be such a headache – literally: “Now I shall lift and move my right foot. Good job, lower body! Now let’s do the left foot.”
Our brains are also ready to take short cuts when we evaluate other people. Have you ever met someone new and taken an instant dislike to him or her, only to realize later that you were reacting because the new person reminded you of someone else who you already know and dislike? That’s your brain taking a short cut. I had an experience like that once when I was in charge of hiring and an applicant who I had selected to be interviewed based on a fantastic application and resume walked into my office. Even though she was dressed appropriately and I’d loved her – my first reaction when I saw her was, “Hell no!”
Fortunately for the applicant, I knew that I was being premature and unreasonable. I thought for a quick second and realized that the applicant resembled a certain relative of mine with sticky fingers (as in stealing). I took a deep breath and lectured myself, “Just because she looks like you-know-who does not mean this lady is a thief. Your gut feeling is meaningless. Slap yourself and focus on the facts, dummy.”
Hmmmmm. Maybe that was ES speaking now that I think about it.
Later, I figured out my brain had tried to take a short cut – a stereotype that if you resemble my relative, you are not a trustworthy person. Essentially, based on past experience, my brain tried to help me out by going directly to a conclusion without wasting time by gathering information.
That’s how stereotypes work. We can’t control these instant reactions. Our brains just do it. What we can do is control what we do after having the mental reaction. If I had refused to consider the applicant just because of my stereotype, it would have been unfair to the applicant (who deserved to be evaluated based on her qualifications) and stupid of me.
Some stereotypes go mainstream and become common jokes. Used artfully by comedians and socially among friends, stereotypes can be hysterical. They can also be hurtful. It is all a matter of timing and context.
You found out that a co-worker voted for Trump. Your stereotype is your belief that anyone who voted for Trump is a racist, sexist jerk. That is going too far because the only fact you know is that your co-worker voted a certain way. All you know for sure is that he believes that a person who said the things Trump said on the campaign trail is an acceptable choice to be president.
You are entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your anger. Judge your co-worker all you want – but when you are at work, remember that just because you think something does not mean it is O.K. to say it. When you are at work, it is your duty to conduct yourself in a professional and respectful manner. You absolutely do not have to respect your co-worker, but you do have to act respectfully in the workplace.
Last but not least, behaving respectfully does not mean you have to be silent in the face of inappropriate conduct. If your co-worker who voted for Trump or any other co-workers, no matter how they voted, engage in conduct that is hateful, disrespectful or in any way disruptive to the harmony of the workplace, do something about it. Document the incident by writing down what happened, what was said, who was present, where and when it took place, how people reacted and then report the matter to your manager or human resources.
The only way to stop harassing conduct in the workplace is to speak up and insist on enforcement of the rules firmly in place.
Evil Skippy and/or Jim are available to speak at your conferences and seminars. For information or to send a question for Evil Skippy to answer, use the “Contact” link on the left sidebar.