How To Tackle Offensive Remarks At Work


To foster a diverse, inclusive and equitable environment for every employee, sometimes we are required to have difficult conversations that we don’t really want to have. In order to improve our workplaces, it is essential to address employees or coworkers that make offensive, ignorant, or even inflammatory remarks based on their personal biases or ignorance toward another group of people. What can be done to counteract conversations where others are spewing vile and hateful remarks?

First off, whenever an offensive, discriminatory, or stereotypical remark is made, it is best not to be passive. A 2013 Columbia University study indicated that one main reason for inaction and passiveness when these kinds of statements are made is the inability to recognize that a discriminatory statement has been made. In addition, even when others can recognize that an inappropriate comment was made, some struggle with how to handle and address the perpetrator(s) in the situation. To prevent these inappropriate statements from being made in the future, it has to be addressed head-on.

When addressing offensive remarks and tackling discussions about bias and bigotry, it is effective for each individual to acknowledge their own biases. The study revealed that the admittance of one’s own prejudice allowed others to be more honest and vulnerable, thus fostering a more positive climate to engage in uncomfortable dialogue. It is so imperative that human resource professionals as well as organizational leaders are well-trained in conflict resolution, and understand how to properly diffuse a wide-range of situations. Witnessing the confrontation of someone who told a racist joke increased the likelihood of confronting someone in the future who tells a racist joke. This strategy is called behavior modeling training (BMT), which involves being put into hypothetical situations and modeling specific behaviors and skills that model real-life situations. Training and development tactics for employees and leaders should involve these BMT strategies for developing successful confrontation approaches.

How can organizations encourage employees to speak out when they observe incidents of discrimination? Employees may be more proactive with reporting witnessed discrimination when they understand how important their role is in fostering an inclusive workplace and stopping prejudice within their organization. In addition, an employee’s responsibility to confront bias should be incorporated into their work role and employees should receive repeated reminders that prejudiced statements and discrimination will be taken very seriously and will lead to severe consequences.

Lastly, organizational leaders should emphasize the importance of reporting such incidents when they occur. Offensive statements and discrimination may go unreported because employees are afraid of repercussions and backlash. Employees who report these incidents should have assurance from management that this will not occur, so they feel more comfortable disclosing. It is absolutely necessary that continuing dialogues take place (which emphasizes the importance of ongoing diversity training) in order to increase education, awareness, and understanding and foster more inclusive and equitable workplaces.


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