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Trevor E. S. Smith | It’s Not a joke!

Published:Sunday | June 9, 2019 | 12:00 AM

“He did what?”

That was my incredulous response to what my conflict management interviewee (call her Mavis) shared.

Mavis described the inappropriate behaviour to which she was subjected.

I will skip the details to protect her identity. However, the behaviour has no place in a corporate environment. It is just not done.


Mavis told her colleague that the behaviour was inappropriate when it happened.

“I raised my voice at him” when it was repeated.

His response was to be upset and to shut down communication with Mavis.

Mavis is a precious soul who works hard on her Christianity. She chose the path of forgiveness and pursued reconciliation.

“He is also a child of God and we are colleagues, so we need to work together.”

This is a spirit and mindset that more of us should emulate. We have the capacity to move past unpleasant and inappropriate actions.

We have control over our mind, our thoughts and our emotions. Harbouring negative thoughts is the equivalent of ingesting poisonous or harmful substances into our bodies.

Flushing out negative thoughts and emotions from our minds is like taking an enema to remove toxins from our bodies.

Neither action precludes further steps.

Why not develop the skill to protect our minds and emotions from being slaves to external influences? Why should we allow others to treat us like puppets?

“She/he made me” gives others power over us. Take back control!


Mavis did take further action. She saw that the issue was being treated as a joke and that her objections were not being taken seriously.

She reported the matter to her supervisor. Not only did he take no action but, amazingly, he did the very same thing!

This borders on abuse or harassment, and most organisations would take a strong stand in the matter.


Mavis chuckled when her supervisor did it. This is an involuntary action that often takes place in the face of power.

Faced with inappropriate behaviour from an authority figure, we might not know how to respond in the moment. We see cases of this increasingly coming to the fore.

With increased exposure and education, people like Mavis will become more aware and comfortable with taking a stand right there in the moment or ensuring that concrete steps are taken to prevent its recurrence.


Mavis is a great example of clarity of thought and self-confidence. She came to the conflict-management interview on the premise that her greatest challenge or frustration with conflict is “the failure of people to take responsibility for their actions”.

She was clear that something was wrong with her colleague as it relates to his inability to recognise that his behaviour is inappropriate.

I raise this to firmly reject any thought that maybe Mavis’ demeanour or her actions enabled or even invited the inappropriate behaviour. Perish the thought!

That is similar to the thinking related to mode of dress and sexual abuse.

People have the right to be themselves without being abused. Being mild-mannered is not an invitation to be bullied!


Many people suffer through uncomfortable situations which the perpetrators consider to be a joke.

This insensitivity has produced a life of ongoing torment for many. Some victims even think that there must be something wrong with them, and their self-esteem takes a beating.


It may not be sufficient to ask the persecuted individual to stand up to individual or group teasing and bullying when they are subjected to inappropriate behaviour.

Sometimes that is not practical. Also, when one is low on self-esteem and is entertaining self-doubt, taking decisive action might be challenging.

Could it be better to address the problem at its source? What if we did more work in educating people as to the implications of their actions?

Could we invite bullies to examine how they would feel if the roles were reversed?

Is there value in reinforcing the fact that we are not all the same and that if harmony is to be maintained, we must respect each other’s peculiarities?


Hold people accountable for inappropriate behaviour!

Step in to protect those who are being subjected to inappropriate behaviour and who might not be able to deal effectively with it on their own.

Join forces to petition for an environment in which we can be ourselves without being subjected to inappropriate behaviour!


Share your greatest challenge or frustration when it comes to conflict. Tell your story and help others. Email me at with the subject line CONFLICT.

- Trevor E. S. Smith/Success with People Academy, interpersonal relations and performance-enhancement specialists. Providing human capacity development and technology-driven solutions. Email: