BCB MayJune 2022_LR

With a mission to inform, empower, celebrate and advocate for British Columbia's current and aspiring business leaders, BCBusiness go behind the headlines and bring readers face to face with the key issues and people driving business in B.C.

Issue link: http://digital.canadawide.com/i/1468031

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Page 10 of 83

Y ou're a "mature" male, out clothes-shopping with your wife. While you're trying on pants, one of the sales staff asks you to turn around, and then, her eyes locked on your backside, says to your partner, "Lucky you!" Everybody laughs. But minutes later, it hits you: if the gender roles were reversed, this would be deemed inappro- priate, if not actual harass- ment. So what gives? When it comes to interac- tions these days, there's much confusion about boundaries— especially at the office. What can you say? What shouldn't you say? And why is it OK for some people to say certain things, while others can't? The situation is fluid, and un- fortunately, there are no easy answers. But as postmodernists and ancient Egyptian royals might say, everything's relative. So how to determine wheth- er your words or actions cross a line? First, you need to identify the players. In other words, who is saying what to whom? In the scenario above, the fe- male clerk is the "sender" of a message, while the aging male, prematurely deep into his dot- age (read: me), is the "receiver." In this case, who we are is key: the relationship and context argue against a scenario that implies a truly toxic exchange— as a result, the message was received in the (humorous) spirit the sender intended. But flip the script—or factor in, say, an unequal workplace power dynamic—and you've got a very different situation. Next determine intent, which sits on a spectrum. If the idea behind an exchange is to do harm, well, case closed. But if the "sender" doesn't actually grasp that what they've said is potentially offensive, that's where it gets sticky. Sometimes, we say or do things that hurt others not because we want to be hurtful, but because we don't have a solid grasp of how our words may land. In other words, we're truly unaware of the impact. If you honestly have no idea that what you've said is offen- sive, and you're amenable to understanding where things went awry, that could poten- tially open the door to a classic teachable moment. Not every mistake is unforgivable, and most people are kinder than their social media posts imply. However, if you choose to cavalierly dismiss the weight of your words or deeds, you could be courting a big bag of hurt. A decade or two ago, slapping a Confederate flag decal on your work laptop might have been interpreted as nothing more than a vague nod to noncon- formist rebellion. I mean, The Dukes of Hazzard, right? But times and attitudes evolve. Today, the Stars and Bars is freighted with seri- ous semiotic baggage, and no amount of "I've been living in a cave, listening to Skynryd" pleading will help your cause. Willful ignorance is not a defence, and neither is the fact that you choose to live in the past. That's the thing about im- pact: even if you're convinced that what you've said is fine, it may not feel that way to someone else. But just because someone is offended by what you say doesn't automatically mean all comments are off lim- its. Sometimes, the perceived hurt may be disproportionate to the "offence." For example, telling a coworker that you like their hat is hardly tantamount to sexual harassment—or it shouldn't be. What about, say, satire and jokes? Does that mean that sensitivities surrounding cul- ture, nationality, gender and religion have put everything pretty much off limits? No. But again, relative power dynam- ics and common sense come into play. Former Fairmont Hot Springs Resort CEO Vivek Sharma's recent joke at a hos- pitality conference that the women in the audience should "go clean some rooms and do some dishes"—after he hon- oured them on International Women's Day—was grossly ill- considered, at best. Things are changing rapidly, and it can get confusing. But here's a bit of advice designed to help you navigate these choppy social and cultural wa- ters: for the time being, at least, just don't be an asshole. As a diehard fan of South Park, I say this with some regret. n S H I F T H A P P E N S Theory of Relativity Wondering how to draw the line between harmless and hurtful words and deeds? We've got a few suggestions by Guy Saddy ISTOCK ( the informer ) MAY/JUNE 2022 BCBUSINESS 11

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