Even when unwelcome behavior stops short of harassment, it can still make things uncomfortable. If someone at work is less than professional, use these tips to take control.

You did it! You’ve landed that great marketing/finance/HR/management job you’ve worked so hard for! The hard part is over, right?

And then you sit down for your first meeting and you notice it: Your boss sees not just the talented, creative, valuable member of the team he/she just hired, but also a young, attractive, vibrant person. Now, this isn’t your “Mad Men” brand of sexism — no doubt that does still exist, but we’re talking about more subtle cases here.

There are clear-cut cases of sexual harassment, and if you’ve experienced one, call an attorney. Now. But there are also not-so-overt situations that you just know are less than professional. You need to deal with them:

1. Acknowledge it

You shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable around someone that you work with or for. Take control of the situation.

It can be as simple as, “I really like that outfit on you.” When a person in the cube next to you says it, you feel great. But when your department head says exactly the same thing, you’re left wondering, “What did that mean?”

So take control. If the comment makes you uncomfortable, say, “I appreciate your comment, [only if you really do appreciate it] but it makes me feel uncomfortable.” Promote an open dialogue. (Click here to tweet this thought.)

2. If you’re not sure of something, ask

Maybe you are taken out for lunch more often than your colleagues, or invited for drinks or to attend office functions, or asked to do something that just doesn’t seem to be all work-related.

You don’t have to come out and say, “Are you hitting on me?” Just ask, “What is the purpose of this?” or “What goal do we want to accomplish?” If you don’t get a clear business objective, then your hunch was probably right. If you do get a satisfying answer, then work your hardest to help meet that objective.

3. If a joke’s not funny, don’t laugh

There is a breed of person, both male and female, who makes inappropriate jokes at the workplace. No matter who it comes from, if you don’t think it’s funny or you find it offensive, don’t laugh. Nothing stops people in their tracks like not getting the reaction they are looking for.

4. Take control of the conversation

Someone has just mistaken you for a therapist. It happens to men and women alike. You have a friendly face, you come across as understanding, and people tell you very personal stories that cross the line of intimacy. This isn’t necessarily sexual in nature, but can be just as uncomfortable.

Steer the conversation back to a work-related topic. Get what you need to know from that person to complete your job and get out of the room. These people don’t only intrude on your personal space, they can be devastating time suckers.

5. Own your space

The more confident you are in yourself and your ability to do your job, the more respect you will get from those around you. When you are unsure of yourself, you seem vulnerable and you open yourself up to unwanted encounters.

So own your space. Plan your days well, stay focused on your job, work to the best of your ability and don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help. Find a position of strength and stay in it.

Whether you are a man or a woman, chances are you’ve probably come across one of the situations I’ve described. If you remember just one thing, let it be this: Stay in control and you’ll be able to handle any situation with class while feeling great about yourself.

Amanda Aschinger has worked with just about every type of person, business, and entity imaginable. When she isn’t out telling great stories on video and film, she enjoys writing them. Amanda is a serial entrepreneur and a lover of great businesses.


  1. Sam Smith

    Don’t sh*t where you sleep!

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