up the ladderIn my day job, all employees have to complete periodic legal compliance training. Once a quarter, I have to watch 2 or 3 online videos about selected topics relevant to the workplace and then pass a quiz on each one. It’s not really a big deal (though I do hear a lot of grousing when the reminders come out), and usually I just do them and move on.

Yesterday was the day I dug into this quarter’s modules. (Yeah, the deadline is Friday.) Partway through the first module, something caught my attention. I backtracked a few frames to make sure I had it right.

Sure enough, what I had noticed was this: the first recommended course of action when faced with this particular problem was to approach the offender and present your case reasonably and professionally. It said:

You CAN speak up and tell someone that something they are doing or saying makes you uncomfortable. It demonstrates leadership and can make all the difference in the world.

Hallelujah! A voice of reason and responsibility. I wholeheartedly support reporting procedures, and they should always be followed according to the prescribed protocol. However, the first step in any conflict should be to bring it to the attention of the person involved. Tell her you don’t like it, it makes you uncomfortable, you find it offensive, you think it’s wrong, whatever. Give the person a chance to respond; perhaps you can work out the issue right then and there.

So often these days, I feel as if the immediate reaction of many is to move directly to what I believe should be the SECOND step of the process: tell the next person up the ladder. And often that next person fails to ask the follow-up questions, “Have you talked to this person directly? Have you tried to work it out?” Certainly, the up-the-ladder process exists for a reason, but that reason is to give people redress when the last step didn’t solve the issue. We can’t jump into the middle of the process without trying the simplest, most reasonable course(s) of action first.

And I especially loved the part that stated, It demonstrates leadership. Darned straight. It says a lot about a person who is willing not only to stand up for herself, but also to (try to) handle an issue directly rather than simply handing it off to someone else.

I know there are exceptions to every rule and that occasionally, the direct approach just won’t work. I get that. But we must at least ask the question, What can I do to help this situation and then evaluate the options before pushing it up the ladder. Start on the ground floor, not the first rung.

P.S. We don’t let our kids do this; why should we?

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