In a 2013 article, researchers who study the impact of the law on human lives (Wiener, Gervais, Allen, & Marquez cited below) specifically explored the impact of people’s individual perspectives on their ability to consider the reasonable person’s perspective when judging potentially harassing behavior.

What do we mean by the reasonable person? The reasonable person is, according to Merriam-Webster, “a fictional person with an ordinary degree of reason, prudence, care, foresight, or intelligence whose conduct, conclusion, or expectation in relation to a particular circumstance or fact is used as an objective standard by which to measure or determine something (as the existence of negligence).” The reasonable person‘s point of view is considered when an issue of unwanted behavior occurs in a work environment, in order to help determine whether the act should reasonably be considered offensive.

In reading this article, I learned that there is something called the self-reference effect, where humans tend to reach judgments about outside situations by placing themselves inside the role of the ‘experiencer’ in the situation. As humans, we do this naturally – perhaps as an instinctive survival mechanism. However, in theory, this idea would debunk the whole reasonable person test we use to objectively judge issues. How can we consider the reasonable person’s perspective if we are putting our own emotions and values into that role any way? Isn’t that just our perspective then?

The answer is yes. We have a tendency to put ourselves into the shoes of others when predicting how another person experiences something. But that does not mean it’s impossible for us to consider the reasonable-ness of workplace behavior.  After all, we are held to certain expectations and standards in a work environment are we not?Perhaps a helpful way to think about the reasonable person is to instead consider a prudent, or careful, or responsible, or professional point of view.  

Would a prudent/careful/responsible/professional person consider the behavior unwelcome in a work environment?


The first step is knowing where the legal boundaries exist in your context.

Do you (and your team) know what legally defines harassing behavior?


Wiener, R. L., Gervais, S. J., Allen, J., & Marquez, A. (2013). Eye of the beholder: Effects of perspective and sexual objectification on harassment judgments. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law19(2), 206.

I used to work with someone with whom I had a personal issue, and the personal issue I had unfortunately skewed the way I viewed this individual and their behavior in our work environment. Of course I can see this now in hindsight, because this was years ago, but what I also didn’t know back then is that there are strategies for neutralizing our personal biases toward others.

Since then, I have also learned that it is easy to slip into a negative attitude when we feel wronged. Whether it’s because your reputation is at stake or because you just feel ignored, sometimes we fall into a place where we can only seem to think about the negative aspects of a situation.

Could you or someone you know use a simple model for

neutralizing personal bias?

The 2018 Oxford Word of the Year is toxic – a word we usually hear associated with substances like toxic chemicals or toxic waste. We usually use the word toxic to warm ourselves and others that a certain substance is poisonous or dangerous.

In 2018, the use of the word toxic grew to be widely associated with certain situations as well, for example toxic masculinity or toxic work environments.

We take the word seriously when it comes to our health (avoiding toxic chemicals), but what about our mental health or our occupational health? Toxic situations at work, such as gossip or rumors, bullying, or harassment, can cause employees to experience levels of stress and anxiety that significantly impact their well-being, as well as the well-being of the business.

Are you taking steps to prevent a toxic work environment?

In her recent book, Empowered Boundaries, author Cristien Storm discusses the idea of communicating boundaries as a way of protecting an environment or space from stepping into legally actionable situations, like discrimination and harassment.

According to Storm, boundaries are communicated with either action or inaction, and can be communicated re-actively or proactively, to protect a space. I’ll let her words provide an example:

“When we do not respond to a sexist comment, for example, the space becomes one in which sexism can expand, which in turn creates conditions where escalating sexist behaviors are more possible. However, if we can assert a clear boundary in the face of a sexist comment, we demark that space as one where sexism is not tolerated. Boundaries then, are not just individual and interpersonal but social as well.”


How do you manage the boundaries in your work context?

For more information on how to keep clear, consistent boundaries, ask about our Professional Boundaries course.   866.377.0165

As a sensitivity training workshop facilitator, something I hear a lot is “I was blindsided by a colleague” or “Why didn’t they just come to me if they had an issue with me?” In this position as facilitator, I have learned a lot about the frustrations people have when their colleagues raise issues to a manager or HR rather than coming to them directly; but there are a number of reasonable reasons why this happens.

If someone has raised an issue about your behavior, ask yourself the following questions:

Does this employee report to me?

If so, this person may want to stay in good standing with you, even though they find your behavior unwelcome.

Is this employee new to the group?

If so, consider their perspective. They may not want to be perceived as coming in and shaking things up. But it doesn’t mean they should suffer in silence in an environment that they find hostile.

Has this person mentioned the issue to me before? Did I do something about it?

It is possible that a person tried to raise an issue with you before, and they feel it didn’t work for whatever reason.

Do you consider your relationship with this person to be friendly? Too friendly? Is it so friendly that you sometimes enter into inappropriate conversations in the work context (comments or jokes of a sexual nature, or that touch on legally protected characteristics)?

If so, then going to a manager or HR is the correct step to take, because this is more than just an unwelcome comment or joke. This behavior crosses a legal boundary and can be considered harassment.


The good news is there are preventative steps you can take to avoid complaints about your behavior.

Stay away from topics that can be controversial: sexuality, gender identity, politics, religion, generational differences (millennials vs baby boomers), political correctness, etc. When such topics do come up, tune into the reactions and facial expressions of those present. Is anyone uncomfortable?

If you like to make jokes in the office, consider the content of the jokes. Do they touch on a protected class (race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, etc) or are they of a sexual nature? If so, then going to a manager or HR is the correct step to take, because this is more than just an unwelcome comment or joke. This crosses a legal boundary and can be considered harassment.

You can learn more steps and strategies for prevention from our Professional Boundaries course.

Register today!

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