Should you let things slide or demand respect in the workplace?

CA Irene Chikobvu explains that you need to balance your reactions to conflicts in the workplace.

By Sasol senior management accountant Irene Chikobvu.

As women ambitiously transcend through our corporate journeys, we will be faced with both big and little conflicts. For the sake of our own sanity, we need to differentiate the two and discern which reaction is justified. My experience has taught me that managing your reactions is always crucial to influencing how people perceive you. 

If we always let things like undue comments or unfair ratings slip by, we will be mistaken for a walkover, and how many walkovers do you know in a leadership position? It is better to ensure people know not to demean you with unnecessary tactics and comments. Let them be aware that they need to think before they speak to you. It’s called respect. 

On the other hand, if your nature is to overreact, you may become the person nobody wants to work with out of fear of saying something to invoke your wrath. So it’s pertinent to find a balance between when to let things slide or when to demand respect. 

For example; Your male peers start debating who will be taking the Europa League with the male manager and you feel left out of the conversation. You have exactly three seconds to decide on your reaction. Will it be:

  1. Ask for the topic to be changed because you do not feel that this is an inclusive conversation. 
  2. Smile, ask questions and chip in here and there where you know a few things, and maybe use that to try move the conversation in a new direction.
  3. Be completely silent because you have nothing to add to the conversation.

Everyone is different. So, their reactions in a scenario like this will obviously differ. I believe the second option would work best, simply because you’re not downplaying yourself and you’re taking control of the situation without downplaying anyone else.

But if, for example, a man comments on the shape of your body at work, it warrants a more aggressive reaction. When it happens, you need to make sure that the man knows to respect you and that it will never happen again. 

I consider the first scenario to be one of those ‘little conflicts’ that shouldn’t worry you too much. The second scenario however is one of the ‘big conflicts’ that need addressing. Of course, the severity of how someone perceives a conflict may differ from one person to the next depending on their background and personal experiences. It is up to you to decide where you draw the line.

Irene is a Zimbabwean-born South African. She grew up in Bloemfontein, Free State, where she studied to be a chartered accountant. She completed her articles at KPMG and currently serves as a senior management accountant at Sasol.