>Banter is not wrong

>A good friend of mine, Jim, has gone through a small ordeal which has made me (re)ponder the way we think about Diversity. Jim is a smart guy, and has a quick wit. He’s been with his employer for a number of years now and is working his way through the ranks. In his current post he has a mixed team of people he works with. Now Jim’s not a malicious person in any way but what happened has now given him the name Mud.

Jim enjoys banter – as we all do – with his work colleagues. What he didn’t bank on was someone in his team not appreciating his banter. Jim made a comment and used a euphemism to make it funny. His colleague took offence and decided to address it with Jim. Thankfully it’s not turned into anything serious, but it made me think about how easily behaviours can be misinterpreted.
What worries me is there is a clear uncertainty from employers and employees about what is acceptable in the workplace. Clearly direct and indirect discrimination of any kind is just unacceptable and should be dealt with. And acting in inappropriate ways is clearly unacceptable – butt slapping, shouting, intimidating, etc. But in a lot of everyday occurrences, it’s the non-obvious behaviours which need to be considered.
Think about any of the following: A female employee referring to colleagues using words like ‘honey’, ‘love’, ‘darling’. A male employee walking around the office in cycle clothing (not wrong but certainly not appropriate). An Asian employee displaying an England flag at his desk during an international sports competition. A practising religious person keeping on their desk in view of everyone a copy of their religious text. Are any of these wrong? As any case law specialist will tell you it’s all about the context.
So here’s my context. In a previous post I mentioned Intelligent Behaviours. If staff act intelligently they would see that in most instances a behaviour perceived as inappropriate was actually harmless. It’s when you don’t act intelligently that things go awry. Having an Intelligent Behaviour mindset means you’re not only looking at what was said, but the mannerisms of the person as a whole, their normal interactions, their attitude to work, their attitude to the organisation, their interpersonal skills, all these give you a picture of what that person intended. Bearing that in mind, in most instances you should see no malice intended.
I’m not dismissing those individuals who do allow their prejudices and biases to influence how they work with others. Even they should take the time to think intelligently about what they’re doing. This is about allowing a workplace to have a freedom to act and behave in a way which others are accepting of and appreciate. If your organisation is reticent to do this or thinks this is not talking about the real world, then your organisation has a behaviour problem that rides throughout all levels and you need to make some tough and necessary decisions about how you want to rectify these.
So, banter is not wrong. It’s a very British quality mind, and other cultures will have different cultural norms to be adhered to and respected. The important thing to remember is if you have an issue with what someone has said, think intelligently about the context, not just the words, and more often than not you’ll have a different appreciation to your assumption.
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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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