Difficult Situations

A conversation on another thread reminded me of a recent event I thought I’d share.

I do a monthly ‘coaching’ session with my assistant. It’s an hour that opens with my asking her what the most important topic on her mind is, and we go from there. (A bit of background, she’s in her first office job, and in her early 20s. She’s GREAT at what she does and an awesome admin, these sessions are wide ranging so that we both share and she gets maximum input.)

This month she asked my advice about how to deal with people getting ‘too friendly’ with her at company parties and also when they are spending too much time talking to her at work.

I started by asking her how she deals with it when she’s out with friends, and she gave a (sadly) typical response “I just talk to the guy. I mean, it just seems rude to blow him off.”

So I talked about how women are conditioned to do this: we’re taught to smile when we are uncomfortable, to turn away (but not walk away) when others get too physical or close. I could see the flashbulb going off over her head. I told her that the number one thing they teach women in self-defense classes is to yell their heads off when in a scary situation. That most women won’t ‘make a scene’ and then get hurt. (The light was growing brighter.) I shared with her a time when I’d seen a woman in a bar being harassed by a guy who just wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer and I went over and sat next to her and just started talking to her. The guy was intimidated by two women and wandered away, and I introduced myself to her. We had a pleasant conversation for a bit then she left and I went on with my life. We talked about having code words or phrases and paying attention to the other women so you can be an ally, it can really help.

I told her that its easy at work: she just has to tell the person hovering that she’s busy. If they stay, she can ignore them, or tell them again. I told her I will ALWAYS back her up so she can use me as an excuse if she feels the need, but really, work is always the priority at work. (she felt good about that.) She totally got that and appreciated the reminder.

Then we talked about the hard situation: the office party. It’s got a mix of private and public and a lot of alcohol. People can feel like they can be their ‘normal’ touchy-feely selves and since we aren’t strangers, boundaries get crossed. Nothing that happened to her was *awful,* but she felt uncomfortable. (And we had a party coming up in a few weeks, so this was topical.) We talked about strategies for eluding someone politely, for creating an ally before the event to have ‘safe space’ to go to, just in case, and what she would feel comfortable doing.

I shared that, to my mind, its an energetic exchange, but she doesn’t owe the person standing in front of her (metaphorically or literally) anything other than an acknowledgment of their existence. Then I had a bit of inspiration. I asked her how she deals when someone gives her a gift. She says ‘thank you.’ but then the gift is hers to deal with: she can enjoy it, throw it away, re-gift it, whatever. And she doesn’t owe the gift-giver anything in return. These interactions are just like that: they offer an encounter, she declines, that’s the end of it. If they take it further *it’s on them* not her.

The light was a sunrise through the fog.



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