I’ve talked often on this blog about my belief that there’s a need for people to watch their language in the workplace. To whit, here’s a short list of posts I’ve written on the subject:

Choosing Your Words Carefully

The Misunderstanding Of The First Amendment

Intentional Unintentional Freudian Slips

Communicating Badly

Consequences For Actions Again

Julian Assange Wikileaks named Man of the Year by Le Monde
thierry ehrmann
via Compfight

It is in that vein that I introduce this topic. A couple of days ago on Facebook someone asked this interesting question: “Why is it that when someone says something you don’t like it’s considered bigoted, but when you say something supporting the other side it’s free speech?”

Other people got to the question before me and their statements were all about a particular incident and admonitions as to why they felt free to say what they’d said. My response was something quite different; I said:

All opinions are the same in that others evaluate them. They’re always in the eye of the beholder; that’s just how it goes. So, if a number of people judge an opinion as either open-minded or bigoted, majority rules. Doesn’t mean it’s necessarily always right, but it’s the reality.

The response is simple; the aftermath isn’t always so simple. The thing about words is that most of the time once they’re out there it’s too late to try to do anything about it. Utter the N-word in the wrong place and time and you’re pretty much done. Make a negative statement against any group that someone considers oppressed and you might need to start looking for another job.

What people say in their personal lives might be abhorrent, but most of them at least are saying it to people who agree with their position for the most part. That doesn’t make it any better, but when you’re among those who agree with you it’s never considered bigoted speech.

That is, until there’s someone in the group that has a horse in the race. Let it be someone with a grandchild of mixed heritage or a child that happens to be homosexual, or even a friend or relative who was killed because of someone who abused their Constitutional rights and suddenly the majority is fighting the one person who sees them all as bigoted. And what can these people say except “sorry”?

So that’s personal life. When it happens in the workplace, suddenly a whole new thing starts taking place. Problems could start to arise when people don’t want to work with each other. It could create a hostile environment. It could make the office a terrible place to be, and it might never get resolved. When people are forced to be with each other and they don’t want to, it’s volatile, and no leader wants to work with that on a daily basis.

When is speech bigoted in the workplace? When one person takes offense. It doesn’t take a majority; all it takes is one person to be offended and that’s when problems start. It’s up to leaders to set the tone for how everyone else behaves. If written rules need to be scripted, do so. However, it’s best if everyone adheres to being circumspect in what they have to say because it’s the right thing to do in the wrong place to be boorish.

Or bigoted; no one likes being accused of it, but it takes some behavioral control and some forethought not to cross lines.
 

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