As I’ve mentioned before, I have experience with sexual harassment from several angles. I have provided legal counsel to parties during their sexual harassment claims. I have investigated and mediated claims as a human resources supervisor. I have been the target of harassment, and I’ve walked dangerously close to inappropriate behavior in the workplace. I’ve seen many of the ways we can all find ourselves in the middle of a claim. Thus, I encourage you to make The Seven Choices to stay connected to your strength during the investigation and through resolution of the matter. Then, we can work through The Five Actions:
Define the conflict.
I encourage people to get very clear on what the conflict is by using this format: ________ and I disagree about _______________. In this situation, you probably disagree about what is appropriate conduct in the workplace. I get a lot of questions about this in my monthly live webinars and when loved ones or strangers learn of my work in this area. (You can sign up for the sexual harassment course here, or see recordings of the live webinars here.) My simple rule is: “If you are in someone’s workplace, including your own, assume the people in it are there to work. If your communication is not related to that work, it probably isn’t appropriate.” However, that doesn’t change the fact that there is a conflict about something that already happened, so let’s look at what happened and why it might be inappropriate.
Identify the interests.
In New York, all employees are receiving sexual harassment training, which means you probably have some idea of what could get you or your employer sued. Your beliefs about what is right and wrong will likely arise out of the training you received, and you’ll often develop thoughts, expectations, wants, and needs from there. Explore what those are. Then, consider what the harasser might believe, think, expect, want, and need. This is not to excuse any harassing conduct, but it can help you determine whether the behavior was intentional or likely to continue. That will, of course, be helpful in determining what corrective actions should be taken to protect you from similar experiences at work–with this person or anyone else.
Play with the possibilities.
More than likely, if you could have this conflict resolve in any way possible, you would simply be able to go to work, do a good job, collect your paycheck, and go home to a peaceful or happy life. Be willing to ask for assurances that your employer will make this possible, regardless of what disciplinary action might be taken against the harasser, if proven to be one after a fair and impartial investigation.
Create the future.
If you haven’t already reported the harassment to someone with authority to investigate and intervene, I recommend that this be the first step on your plan. You might need to take it several days from now, due to availability of the person who will take the report, but schedule that action before you do anything else. Also, consider counseling or talking with a friend who has been through the process of reporting sexual harassment. Your loved ones will probably mean well, but they might say some ridiculously unhelpful things, because they don’t fully understand. Forgive them, and start working with someone who has experience, so you can participate meaningfully in the investigation, while also asking for what you need to be whole again in this situation.
Stay on PARR (Plan, Act, Revise, Repeat).
No matter how well your report is investigated or how appropriate the resolution is, you probably won’t recover immediately. There will probably be residual fears and emotions for awhile. It will take time to fully trust your employer, any employer, and anyone who reminds you of the harasser–especially if he or she reminded you of someone else who caused you harm. Keep referring back to The Seven Choices and re-making them as often as you need to.
DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information about how to use The Five Actions of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process when you are the target of sexual harassment. It is not legal advice, nor is it a substitute for legal advice. If you want to discuss your legal rights, responsibilities, or options, please contact my trusted colleague, Alison Greenberg.
Want to come through this stronger than ever?
Nance L. Schick, Esq. is an attorney, mediator, and conflict resolution coach based in New York City. Her goal is to keep people out of court and build their conflict resolution skills. She helps managers and business owners have the difficult employee conversations that others avoid so everyone can focus on creating the results they want. Her holistic, integrative approach draws from her experience as a business owner, crime victim, employer, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, and United Nations representative.