Dear Getting a Grip: I work at a U.S. company with many employees from many nations. While some of my co-workers’ accents make understanding their English difficult, their knowledge, expertise, and world views make an extra effort at listening invaluable. One of the top executives at the company repeatedly comments on the accents of my co-workers from other countries, even in email, in what can only be called ethnic slurs. I hate being forced into the compromising position of needing this job and detesting a company leadership’s open ridicule of those from other countries. How do I continue to work for this provincial bigot?
Dear Compromised: In an ideal world, you, as an employee, should be able to express your concerns to the top executive and have them taken into consideration. However, in general, the pecking order does not receive reverse pecks well. Even bosses who say they’re open to feedback from employees, or may even want to be, usually aren’t. Humans try not to do so, but they take feedback personally. And the hierarchical power structure of most companies can treat feedback as insubordination. “Thanks for your feedback” gets paired with public scorn of ideas at meetings, assignment to lousy projects, or to none at all. Even in times of creativity instead of conflict, think, “Danger, Will Robinson!” when the benign-faced boss says, “I’d like your feedback on that, Bob.”
In a booming economy, you could tell that top executive what you really think, pick up your ethics and take them elsewhere. However, a U.S. unemployment rate at 10%, ends that conversation before it begins.
Getting a Grip: Every act or word of cruelty against any member of humanity that is witnessed and not challenged is a moral defeat for the witness and, ultimately, for us all. We are, at times, cruelly bound by circumstance to keep silent. If we feel like victims, too, we deepen the defeat. Sometime our only choices are to keep the light of justice burning in our personal lives, to contribute nothing to the interaction, and to make our silence powerful with contempt.
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Getting a Grip, a workplace advice column, is written by Anne Giles Clelland. Getting a Grip regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.
Anne's Giles Clelland's workplace advice column appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT. A version of this column appeared in the September 2010 issue.