Eight Ways We Flunk Boundaries 101
Sure women have experienced real harassment at work, but men have also suffered unjustly because of misinterpreting the confusing signals that women can send in the workplace. There are many cases where a man is responding to messages a woman sends unintentionally or intentionally. When might you assume the intent of a man’s response isn’t really malicious or intentional sexism? It’s in these cases that a woman’s response can be firm but instructive to the guys we work with, rather than vindictive or vengeful.
The 8 F's
The most common areas where men are giving positive feedback to a woman, but women may interpret it as a negative can be called the 8 F’s of boundaries.
- Flirting is fine, as long as it doesn’t persist after it’s asked to stop. For the most part we could all enjoy a little flirting. But we need to make it clear if it’s unwanted.
- Flattering compliments are great unless they become annoying or uncomfortable. When the woman politely declines them, stop making them.
- Fashion is okay if used to look professionally attractive, but not if it is attracting unwanted attention. A kind reminder to maintain a professional environment is all that’s needed. Don’t be a corporate clone. Instead use flair, but not as a sex object. Think “style” but not “fashion”.
- False impressions happen when someone is reciprocating something that you weren’t aware you were projecting. If you are sending out messages that you didn’t intend to, there just needs to be clarification of original intent, and then adjustment of behavior.
- Friendliness is not an invitation to unwanted advances. If someone is friendly it is common courtesy, not an invitation for someone to pursue them as a mate.
- Flagrancy is bold or overt sexual display that is only appropriate in certain consenting adult industries. In some environments it is encouraged, in most, it should be discouraged in favor of professionalism. And PLEASE don't subject your coworkers to it.
- Feelings fly in the workplace. I suggest you try to get your emotional needs met outside of the office. Coworkers are not therapists or shoulder to cry on, and shouldn’t be put upon that way. This behavior invites foolishness into a career.
- Fault is blaming the victim for being attractive or enticing, or denying the accusations that you’ve been inappropriate. Because the accuser has painted you with the wrong brush, grouping you with criminal harassers or discriminators, you are surprised or offended. If someone suggests improvement in how you interact with the opposite sex at work, it is easy to get defensive. Instead you should not belittle or negate the accuser’s experience of you, but try to understand why it occurred, correct the misperception, and take steps to solve the problem.
Men and women often can’t see each other’s points of view without explanations and education.
A lot of times men’s comments to women come in the form of feedback on her appearance. Men do this because they’re just trying to help improve the effectiveness or potency of the power of a woman’s appearance. Men think they are empowering by doing this, but women become offended. All women have these things happen. A woman I know once had a boss, who in an annual evaluation told her that she needed to wear her glasses more often because it made her look older and smarter and therefore made her more credible. He gave feedback to another female coworker that she needed to wear makeup more often.
In these cases the solution is usually to use the phrase, “I don’t know if you intend to, but.” For example, “I don’t know if you intend to sound this way, but when you comment on my make-up it makes me feel like it isn’t advice that would come up in a performance review of the guys here, so you make it seem like I’m not being evaluated for my performance and contributions to the team, but rather on my attractiveness. I know you, Bill, and you couldn’t have meant that, could you?” Helping him save face while keeping the working relationship in tact solves the problem, raises the awareness, and nips feelings before resentment grows.
Most perceived harassment is annoying, not serious. Look at who is in the position of power to see the truth, and if there isn’t the intent to harm, women can really help guys improve. When both are to blame, use humor to counter annoyances but make the point clear. If a woman participates ongoing in innuendo, teasing, flirting or behavior that one-ups the boys’ offensiveness, the only “fair” outcome is to cut the losses. When both sides take responsibility we can have a fair and friendly workplace.