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"This entire discussion is inappropriate and uncalled for."

There were a few requests in the “nothreads this week to write about saying no at work.  I want to write about saying “no” to sexual/romantic interest from people you work with (and who you will have to interact with again, so you might need a more nuanced approach than you do with subway strangers or handsy dates) and how to say “no” about the work itself, like, just because you are the only woman doesn’t mean you have to be on the party planning committee.

I need to set some ground rules, first, though.  Here are some assumptions I’m making when I write this stuff:

I’m assuming that you want to keep working at your job for as long as you decide to stay there, and are looking for scripts and strategies to make your day-to-day situation better.  Assholes who probably deserve to be fired may not be fired.  Bad people may go unpunished.  Don’t come here seeking justice.

There are times to take it to the barricades – tell your boss, go to HR, hire a lawyer, file formal complaints, etc.  Sometimes people just need to be told/shown/sued/fined/jailed for their nefarious, entitled, and oppressive bullshit.  Most times are not those times, and often going to HR brings no consequences to the people who deserve them, and many consequences for you.  So when you need to fight?  FIGHT.  But choose your battles.

As the Evil HR Lady explains:

HR does not have the role of playground supervisor.  When you and your coworkers went to HR to complain, you expect her to run over and say, “Bad, bad, manager.  Time out!”  But, it doesn’t work that way.   HR’s job is to help the business.

So, I realize that there is no one solution for every problem, person, conflict, or situation that comes up and there are 1,000,000,000 exceptions to every single thing I say here, but in general, this is my recommended strategy for handling interpersonal problems at work in a way that might help you get what you need in the short-term and fight to win in the long-term.

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I’m a huge fan of the Evil HR Lady, Suzanne Lucas.  She’s a great writer, her advice is always constructive, and she has zero patience for fools and whiners.

Before the holidays she advised a reader whose coworker who talked incessantly about religion at work.  Her advice was to use the catch phrases “mmmm interesting,” “that’s nice,” and “that’s not true” when the coworker got going.  This was great advice for that situation, and I thought it could translate beautifully to other situations where you have to interact with someone unpleasant but you can’t afford to scorch the earth when you respond.

Verbal bullying is a huge bummer, and when I’m on the receiving end of it or a witness to it my tendency is to completely shut down.  I’m so appalled at the toxic bullshit that’s coming out of the other person’s mouth that I become paralyzed and I start dreaming that siren will sound and a red light will flash and then a metallic female voice will say “DANGER! SOCIAL CONTRACT BROKEN” and someone – maybe an actual superhero named Captain Awkward wearing a too-tight jumpsuit and a flowy cape – will come in and save me from the awkwardness. Read More