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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Zero Tolerance

Dear Sue: I am the only female among my male coworkers. Due to a few incidents that have taken place over the past six months, we have had three meetings stressing zero tolerance for harassment and inappropriate behavior. As a result, there have been a number of discussions that have evolved. 

Someone recently asked, "What would happen if a woman falsely accused a guy?" and the manager replied, "Remember when Anita falsely accused Clarence? He got the job anyway." 

Last week someone asked if the company was up for sale. The response from the manager was, "Well, it's like Howard (our CEO) said; if asked when you last beat your wife, no answer is a good answer." 

I need to respond to these inappropriate comments, but I am not quite sure whether to address my manager, who doesn't have a clue that he's not making profound statements, or the CEO, who may be innocent, but should know that an inappropriate comment is being attributed to him. Please help. 

- Standing for zero tolerance

Sue Says: It is in everyone's best interest for you to address this at once and you may as well do it with both your manager and the CEO. It is possible that the comments are innocent, and that they will be grateful to have it brought to their attention.

Obviously, your company is attempting to stand for zero tolerance, and it needs the support of all employees. Your approach should be one of support rather than blame. If, however, negative comments continue to be made, you made want to take a stronger stand. 

Although some people complain because they feel that every comment is scrutinized, in order to maintain a respectful work environment, it is important to speak in a manner that offends no one and one that is professional and respectful.

Dear Sue: I am in a new position, and am very happy with the pay and the responsibilities I have been given. The president of the company hired me upon the CEO's recommendation. The CEO recruited me, and it has been a fast track process as both of these gentlemen understand my ability. I have extensive knowledge and experience in this industry, perhaps even more than the president of the company. 

I have concerns that I believe will limit my success. My area of responsibility is badly broken, which I believe is mainly due to the weakness of my new direct report, the President, and his handling of the company during the last several years. 

The CEO is newer to the company, and appears to be very direct in his communication, much like me. When I first spoke with the CEO, he mentioned the potential for me to take on even more responsibility. 

I believe that the company has the wrong person as president, which is the main source of the problem. How should I address this situation without coming across as a backstabber? 

- Not a backstabber

Sue Says: You are in a new position. You say you are happy with the pay and responsibilities you have been given, yet you are concerned your success could be limited. You feel that the president, who hired you, may get in your way, and in the back of your mind you know that the CEO has his eye on you for more responsibility. 

If you blame the president for the problems you could advance yourself quickly. Yet you are hesitating because you realize you could end up looking like a backstabber.

I can't think of anyway for you to suggest the president is the problem without it appearing as though you are a backstabber this early on. 

Take your time as you make your evaluations and come to your conclusions. Address the problems you see in your area and try to determine the cause. Work with the president, not against him. He may be able to offer more insight into the problems you see.

If you don't want to come across as a backstabber, then don't be one. You are in a new position. Give yourself some time to become acclimated. If you do your job well and come up with solutions for this broken area, you will eventually get the added responsibility you seek. 

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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