It’s no secret. We live in a society today where everyone seems to be easily offended. A survey by the New York Post shows that 65% of employers say that younger workers are too easily offended.
So as a workplace manager, you’re sure to bump into employees who get offended right away. This is why it’s a good idea to learn the 10 successful tips for dealing with easily offended employees. But before I get to that, I’ll help you identify a person who is easily offended…
Why Do People Get Offended?
To get to the gist of things, you should know why people take offense so quickly. Laura Tanner, the Manager of Middle: Managed! puts it brilliantly.
Someone is offended because they consider another person’s actions to be impolite. You can be considered impolite by one person, but your actions may not be generally regarded as offensive behavior within your culture. Offensive behavior or language, may not always draw an offended reaction by someone who is overly sensitive. It’s all about the context of the conversation and the particular individual. It can be a situation or a word that causes conflict for the individual.
The reason a person seems to get upset easily stems from a combination of psychological, cultural, and personal factors. For example, past experiences, traumas, or personal insecurities can influence how someone interprets and responds to certain comments or actions.
Another example can be that certain remarks or actions may be offensive in one culture but not in another, leading to misunderstandings and offense.
The concept of offense can vary among individuals, so it’s important to tread carefully when interacting with them. It might not seem offensive to you – but it can be the most offensive comment to them.
Signs That an Employee Is Offended
OK, unless the employee openly tells you they’re offended, it might be difficult to gauge when someone is feeling offended. This is why it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some easily offended examples…
- They give you the silent treatment. When someone feels offended by your actions or words, they may choose to withdraw and withhold communication. This might be to express their displeasure OR as a means of self-protection.
- They sulk. This is similar to my first point. However, a sulking employee displays visible moodiness or withdrawal. They may avoid eye contact, cross their arms, and sign when talking to you.
- They’re sarcastic. If you say something that offends them, they may respond with sarcasm. One example is if they say, “Wow, thanks for that enlightening feedback. I had no idea I was supposed to be perfect at everything from day one. Your guidance is truly invaluable.”
- They’re passive-aggressive. If an employee is passive-aggressive, they may intentionally become inefficient, try to make you look bad, are always late, etc…
- They joke about being offended. Remember, jokes are half meant! If an employee jokes around that they were offended by your comment, they probably really were. This is just their way of making it seem light when it’s not.
- They accuse you. Instead of going to you and talking about it, the offended employee will rather chat with colleagues and say you were offensive. They may even spread rumors because they feel that what you did was very hurtful – not knowing that they’re hurting you back.
- They act differently towards you. Say they are friendly to you, then suddenly change their attitude. This is one sign that you did something that offended them.
10 Tips on How to Deal With Easily Offended Employees
Are you dealing with easily offended employees in the workplace? If so, here are 10 tips on how to deal with a person who is easily offended:
- Build trust with the employee
- Communicate with emotional intelligence
- Educate your team
- Let them talk through the problem
- Pay close attention to what makes them offended
- Choose the correct communication channel
- It is not what you say but how you say it
- Stay clear of what they know the line is
- Don’t let them put words in your mouth
- Be careful of becoming a pushover
1. Build trust with the employee
If you want to work well with someone who is easily offended, you need to build trust with them. Let them know that your goal is not to hurt them. If they’re offended, it was most likely just a misunderstanding.
Also, when there is trust between an employee and a manager, they can be honest with each other. This way, if an employee is offended, they can talk about it. In turn, you (the manager) can apologize.
How do you build trust in the workplace? You need to have a good relationship with each employee. No, this doesn’t mean that you should be BFFs. You just need to establish open communication, show genuine interest in their well-being, and foster a sense of mutual respect.
2. Communicate with emotional intelligence
If you know that the workplace environment has employees who take offense quickly, you need to communicate with emotional intelligence.
If you feel like something will offend them, then avoid saying or doing it. If you must give constructive feedback that might offend, use the proper tone, body language, and choice of words. If you know how to communicate with emotional intelligence, you can avoid so many offended persons in the work environment.
You might be wondering, “What is emotional intelligence?” Well, it refers to the ability to recognize, understand, manage, and effectively use one’s own emotions and those of others. It’s a bit like putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.
3. Educate your team
No one wants a hostile work environment. But that can be the case if team members get offended quickly.
To counter that, encourage your team to reflect on themselves. Let them explore their strengths and address any personal insecurities. Teach them how to handle offensive situations and criticism.
On the other hand, you need to educate your team to be careful what they say or do. Again, they need to communicate with emotional intelligence to be considerate toward everyone.
You as the manager might not control the root of the problem, but you can control how you and your staff respond to it by equipping yourself and your team members with the right skills.
4. Let them talk through the problem
OK, say you’ve already offended someone. How do you go about resolving that conflict? Open communication is the key (a survey showed that 86% of people say ineffective communication is a reason for failures in the workplace).
You can ask the person what’s wrong. For the most part, employees who trust you will be happy to explain why your words or actions offended them. From there, you’ll know what they find offensive and can avoid those triggers in the future.
It’s a good idea to explain that you’re asking so that you can avoid offending them again. This way, they won’t feel like you’re prying on their personal lives.
5. Pay close attention to what makes them offended
What if they don’t want to talk about it? Pay attention to how they think. See how they react to different topics. Don’t assume they’re just like everyone else.
Also, be mindful of how your words might land. It’s okay to challenge them a bit but think it through. You’ve got a responsibility to understand them.
If they become aware that you’re careful with them, this will bring appreciation in the workplace. And who knows, they might open up to you later on.
6. Choose the correct communication channel
When dealing with easily offended employees, you need to practice thoughtfulness. What is the best way to address the situation?
If you don’t want them to ‘read’ more than you intend, it’s best to communicate face to face. They’ll be able to see your facial expression, hear your voice tone, etc. If this is necessary, don’t send an email.
If the employee is nervous, you can do what’s called a “walk and talk”. Instead of sitting them down at your desk, you can discuss it while walking somewhere. This will relieve them and could even make them open up more.
7. It is not what you say but how you say it
Elmarie Pretorius says:
It is not always necessary to say everything that is on your mind. Sometimes, saying pointless things or being too straightforward can be hurtful without it being your intention.
Say you need to give corrective feedback that might hurt. Make it as positive as possible. You might want to start with a compliment. From there, give your constructive feedback. To end, you can say another positive thing.
This will prevent the employee from getting offended. But, you were able to say what you needed to say to help their workplace behavior or performance.
8. Stay clear of what you know the line is
Say you and the team already know what makes employees offended. If that’s the case, don’t allow anyone to taunt them on that.
Let me give you an example. An employee may love social gatherings with a small group. If a small group of friends go out to lunch without inviting that person, it’s better if they keep it to themselves to avoid offending that one person. Don’t let them talk about it loudly, as it could be hurtful.
Of course, it can be much bigger than this. Say for example someone in charge of a work project doesn’t like to be challenged. Instead of going all out and challenging them, try to use an inclusive approach. Keep your suggestion positive.
9. Don’t let them put words in your mouth
Sometimes, an employee can get offended because they assume things. Laura Tanner gives us an example of this.
For instance, if you go to speak to an employee because there was a customer complaint due to an error in a calculation. Instead of admitting the mistake, they will jump on, “So you’re saying that I don’t know how to do my job?!
No, no. You’re not saying that at all. This is the time when you need to clarify. You need to have good communication skills, too.
Tanner continues, “Do not let them leave the conversation thinking “my boss is a jerk” rather than “I need to double-check my work.”
10. Be careful of becoming a pushover
Yes, it’s good to be nice to your employees. But being too nice is not good too.
You might not want to address issues because you don’t want to offend anyone. What’s more, employees might see you as an easy target for manipulation.
Don’t let your employees walk over you. Especially because some use being offended as a way to manipulate. They try to turn the situation away from the real issue.
Yes, it’s best to stay neutral when it comes to race, gender, political view, religion, etc… But when it has to do with the job itself, you need to be confident and assertive.
You have to speak out, even if it will offend someone. Of course, make sure that you do it thoughtfully and carefully, choosing your words and communication channels wisely.
Are you dealing with easily offended employees? Then you first need to identify when an employee is offended. From there, use my 10 tips on how to deal with these individuals.
You need to be extra thoughtful and careful with these types of employees. However, never be too nice that you avoid confrontation and encourage manipulation. You need to it balanced. You need trust and consideration, too.