Calling out unacceptable behaviour: “It’s all about communication”

Written by Matthew Jenkin Tuesday 07 February 2023
Avoid it and you risk facing a toxic culture within the workplace – or worse, legal action. These can be difficult situations for managers and leaderes to navigate. So what’s the most effective way to call out someone’s language or behaviour?
An illustration of a woman shushing another woman

Being part of a team means bonding over a common goal – but what is considered camaraderie within a tight-knit group can be offensive to employees elsewhere within the organisation.

Take the following example: A manufacturing firm embarking on a major restructuring decides to move a team based at one of its goods depots to the head office. They had been used to working closely together in an enclosed office space – unfortunately, their standard of behaviour was completely at odds with what was expected in the open-plan environment at headquarters. The swearing and “banter” which was acceptable among colleagues at the depot were out of the question now. 

Leadership expert Judith Germain, who intervened in this very scenario during her career as an HR head, advises managers to call-out any unacceptable behaviour immediately or risk creating a toxic culture within the workplace – or worse, face legal action.

Judith, who is author of The Maverick Paradox: The Secret Power Behind Successful Leaders, says if you have witnessed the behaviour personally in the workplace, the first step is to address it publicly.

More examples of unacceptable behaviour

  • A colleague keeps trying to make their point, but another member of the team keeps interrupting them before they can finish
  • Critical feedback turning into a personal attack
  • A colleague has an “unfamiliar” name and someone keeps mispronouncing it because it’s “too hard” to say

That means having an open conversation about what you have heard or seen in front of other colleagues and explaining why it is a problem. It shows everyone that you are taking it seriously. But it’s not about humiliating anyone, she says. “It’s about demonstrating immediately to all those who are listening that it is not acceptable. Once you’ve done that, then you speak to them privately.”

Keep reading for a simple guide to calling out unacceptable behaviour


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