You understand how the behavior code is supposed to operate at work. You keep it professional, steering clear of politics, religion, and other potentially divisive subjects. That is why you feel mortified when someone goes after something you deeply believe -- without warning or apology.
I experienced this myself a few years ago when someone made an inappropriate joke about one of our partners.
"Whoa..." I thought. "Where did that come from?"
Everyone has misspoken -- sometimes accidentally and other times with purpose. It takes a certain level of maturity to be open to new people and ideas and avoid speaking with bias. But whether someone is merely "joking around" or delivering barbs that are designed to hurt, the situation can become uncomfortable -- fast. These taboo discussions are especially volatile when they happen in the workplace.
So how should you react when your beliefs suddenly become the target of ridicule?
Firing back with your own retort will satisfy your immediate need for justice and may make you feel better -- for a moment. But this response can escalate the situation and lead to more trouble.
Or, you can say nothing and simply remove yourself from the conversation. That is often a good choice and a noble thing to do. But sometimes avoidance shuns a chance to educate the offender and allows that person to continue to trample on your beliefs. And it does nothing to stop the incident from happening again -- to you and to others.
There is a third, somewhat more audacious option: You can stand up for your beliefs, and you can do it in a way that will not jeopardize your job.
You may be cringing right now and thinking, "Oh, I could never do that." Yes, you can. Here is how you can engage in this more artful response when your beliefs are under attack:
Keep your cool
When someone directs a barb your way, your body will react in defense. This is a natural response to what you perceive as danger. But you must remain calm and counteract this physical reaction. Take a deep breath and count to 10 before saying anything. Use this time to unclench your fists and gather your thoughts.
Get back on topic
Someone needs to lasso the conversation and lead it back to a safe place. Do not be afraid to politely interrupt if it's in the best interest of the conversation. Once you have their attention, reestablish the boundaries, and get the conversation back on track.
Address it privately
The worst course of action is starting a public argument. If the person persists, find them later and then calmly state your case privately. This gives the other person the benefit of the doubt and offers you a chance to calmly educate. If the situation becomes uncomfortable or you feel threatened, however, enlist the help of your manager or explain the situation to HR. Sometimes addressing it privately means getting others involved.
Hold your head up
Your beliefs may not be important to the other person, but they matter to you. After all, they comprise the very essence of who you are. So, the best way to stand up for your beliefs is by allowing your life to speak for itself. No matter what words are spoken, the way you conduct yourself in the workplace speaks far louder.
Our character is revealed by what we say and do, particularly when we are tested by others.
The world could certainly use a refresher course in kindness and civility. Until that happens, the only thing you can control is your own response. It is a show of courage and maturity to stand up for your beliefs without losing your temper.
By your actions, you can send a strong signal about your strength of character, and serve as a positive example of how we should all treat one another.
Have you ever stood up for your beliefs at work?