Etiquette Questions, Answered: Social Situations
How Can I Put an End to Inappropriate Comments at the Workplace?
Q. I am a sales executive and have a loyal client, an older man who brings a lot of business to my company. While I generally like him, he has on occasion made vulgar comments about my figure that leave me wanting to crawl into a potato sack. For the record, I act and dress professionally, and I think that he believes he’s being funny and flattering when he makes these inappropriate remarks. I really wish I could just say, "Back off, dirty old man!" What can I tell him?
A. Ugh. This is the kind of scenario where a generation gap widens into a chasm: Your client probably sees himself as an old-school charmer, whereas you, rightly, experience his behavior as demeaning and out of place.
Since you actually like this man, make the most of that rapport—and educate him in the process—by explaining what it’s like for working women and enlisting his assistance. "You can’t imagine," you might say to him, "how hard it is, even in this day and age, for women to keep their business interactions professional. Can you help change that? You’re a great guy and a great client. You should try to break the habit of flattering the women you work with and encourage others to do the same."
If this sort of direct interaction is out of the question, then raise the issue with your boss. He or she should speak with the client or transfer the account to someone else. And if the company ends up losing your client’s business? Given the fact that flirting is not part of your job description, that loss might have to be written off as the cost of integrity.
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