Over the years, a great deal of attention has been given to dealing with people who behave in an insensitive or inappropriate manner in the workplace. Companies have had to implement written codes of conduct, and employees who don’t comply can be reprimanded, sent to ‘sensitivity training,’ or even discharged. Despite the overzealousness with which it is sometimes applied, this rigour is not a bad thing. A healthy, productive and enjoyable workplace is a very delicate balance. When you think about it, it is surprising that more workplaces, particularly large organizations, don’t have more issues than they do. After all, we spend more waking time with our coworkers – people who we associate with by happenstance instead of by choice – than we do our friends and family. Jam a couple of hundred strangers, each with their own unique priorities, values and personalities, into a single office building, and there’s bound to be some tension.
But there’s another side of the sensitivity coin that doesn’t get talked about quite so much. For just as there are insensitive buffoons, there are also the oversensitive objectors. These are people who have their own personal sensitivities and causes, and insist on actively championing them. They seem to thrive on passing judgment on the people around them, and get great self-satisfaction when they have outed an office evil-doer. They read nefarious intent into every comment and action, and appear obsessed with policing the people around them. Whatever their cause, they will pounce upon and decry even the slightest deviation from their personal definition of what is appropriate. And, although their attitudes and actions also do serious and long-lasting damage to the workplace environment, their positioning as victims makes it virtually impossible to correct their behaviour in any substantive way.
Your ability to function in a team plays a big role in the amount of success you will find in the workplace. Not only do you have to be respectful of the needs of those around you, but you also have to respect that not everyone shares the same sensitivities as you. This is not to suggest that you shouldn’t champion important workplace issues, but if you find yourself becoming frequently vocal because you are being offended by the actions or words of your coworkers, take a look around. If no-one else seems to be supporting up your cause, then maybe it’s you who has to look in the mirror.