Top » Newsletters » Sensitivity in the Workplace

Sensitivity in the Workplace

Warren M. Krompf, CCP, SPHR

We are a diverse society in that each and every one of us comes from a different background.  Just these differences have the potential to bring us together or push us apart in the real world; we must all maintain a sense of sensitivity, openness and kindness in the workplace

But how?  Perception of ourselves and perception of others is the first step.

Organizations both large and small are a composite of populations rich in diversity. Companies rely on this richness of diversity for creative teamwork to meet their values, mission and goals. We need to be aware of our differences, as everyone brings their own gifts to the table. We need to ensure that people’s differences are respected and that we work together to make this happen. Here’s the caveat: Insensitivity and incivility in the workplace is easier to see in others, but more difficult to see in ourselves.

A recent survey by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 73 percent of workplaces have reported occurrences of verbal abuse, and 51 percent have reported incidences of bullying. As a result, one third of organizations have reported losses due to the costs of filling open positions due to employees who have either voluntarily or involuntarily left because of conflicts in the workplace.

One reason for this? Incivility. This could mean a variety of things – a rude comment, an outburst by a stressed out boss, someone showing up late for a meeting, an interrupting a colleague while they are talking may not seem that bad, however, it certainly opens the door for more disrespectful behavior down the line including bullying or harassment.

“Workplace civility is a learned skill” - Chai R. Feldblum, Commissioner of the (EEOC) Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Do You Know Your “Blind Spots?”

Here are some thoughts to stimulate your thinking:

•    Do I still have biases or “blind spots” about people who are different than me?
•    Am I comfortable interacting at work with employees who are different than me?
•    How would I feel if someone treated me, my spouse, partner or one of my children the way that I treat my co-workers?

Diversity and Sensitivity: Examining Your Communication Filter

A common definition of diversity in the workplace and beyond is “the mosaic of people who bring a variety of backgrounds, styles, perspectives, values and beliefs as assets to the groups and organizations with which they interact.” However, most communication is filtered through our cultural perspective. Table 1 is a list of just some of our communication filters that may affect our sensitivity perspective.

Table 1

Age Geographic Location Philosophical perspective
Communication style Gender Race
Customs Languages used Religion
Disability Learning style Sexual orientation
Economic status Military experience Values
Education National origin Work role/experience
Functional discipline Personality Work Style

The Generations and Sensitivity

Studies have found that one major cause of insensitivity tends to come from the learning gap of different generations in today’s workplace. With up to four generations in the workplace, some basic competencies that may be misunderstood will create insensitivity or “hot buttons,” such as preferred leadership approach, communication style, motivation, interaction with others, preferred approach to feedback and expectations for growth.

Examining and Monitoring Your Own Behavior

Emotional intelligence is our ability to recognize, accurately identify and understand emotions in ourselves and others. The challenge is developing the ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior, make good decisions and to act effectively in your relationships. It is not as easy as one might think.

The insensitive situations below are examples that tend to stress our emotions. Ask yourself, “do I get sensitive when others:”

  • Don’t follow through when they say they will?
  • Don’t acknowledge me unless I speak to them directly?
  • Drop in on me while I am working and don’t ask if it’s okay to interrupt?
  • Gossip?
  • Say negative things about other employees behind their backs?
  • Don’t say “thank you?”
  • Don’t return phone calls?
  • Start meetings late and/or don’t end them on time?


Embracing Sensitivity in the Workplace

What do we expect from others in the workplace? Table 2 lists some common expectations:

Table 2

Accountability Considerate Empathetic
Acting With Integrity Cooperative Respectful
Commitment Courteous Supportive
Competent Dependable Trustworthy

It is vital to treat your coworkers in the same respectful, open and kind manner as you would treat your customers. Doing so can result in the following:

  • Improved customer relations
  • Improved understanding of those you work for, with and around
  • Creating a work environment that allows everyone to reach their full potential
  • Providing multiple perspectives on problem solving
  • Ensuring better performance outcomes
  • Increasing retention rates of your employees
  • Boosting employee morale
  • Reducing complaints and grievances

But most important of all: It’s the right thing to do!

Warren Kompf is an experienced impartial third party consultant who has conducted thorough investigations of alleged workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation claims. He has published numerous articles and speaks internationally on topics such sensitivity in the workplace, team and organizational development, talent management, customer service, leadership and change management.

Warren is also a subject matter expert on Six Sigma in corporate and professional service organizations, and is a trained mediator by the Arizona Attorney General’s office. He is currently the president of The Krompf Group, LLC, based in Phoenix, AZ, and is a member of the Chief Learning Officer Business Intelligence Board.

Back to main topic: Newsletters

Share Page
Share on Facebook+1Share on LinkedInShare on MyspacePin it on PinterestShare on Twitter


IICRC on Facebook IICRC on Google Plus IICRC on Twitter IICRC on LinkedIn