These days male leaders will often say to me, ‘I don’t know WHAT I can say to a woman at work anymore!’

’I’m always worried I will get sued for harassment!’

Well, you can stop worrying – I have a very simple solution.

If you are concerned about what you are about to say – if it is ok – just run your comment in your head by these 3 simple tests:

  1. Would you say it if your spouse or the woman’s spouse was present?
  2. Would you say the same thing or allow such a comment to be said to your loved one (daughter, son, sister, brother etc.)
  3. Would you be ok if your comment was posted on the front page of a newspaper?

And if you are STILL not sure – then remember this phrase:

When in doubt – leave it out  (aaaaand…you might want to jot that little ditty of a phrase down and post t at your desk)

I understand harassment claims are concerning. And there may be some grey areas you still struggle with. Or example, a manager recently said to me, ‘Lisa I really like calling women Young Ladies…and I think women of all ages like it – are flattered. But SOMETIMES I worry it will be taken the wrong way’ But I really like saying it.

  • OK…so…it’s true. MOST women won’t mind being called a Young Lady. Personally, I will take that over Ma’m, or any one of a kazzlion other monikers that make me feel old. And the waiter calls me ‘Miss’, well this ‘Young Lady’ is leaving a healthy tip. BUT …that is me.
  • If you are worried you are not with women who will appreciate that phrase – THEN CALL THEM BY THEIR NAMES. Seems obvious when you point it out – right? Drop the Sweety, Gals, Honey, etc. and just say ‘HI MARY’.
    • Because I’m going to bet a dollar to donuts you call MOST men by their name. Maybe you say ‘Guys’ or ‘Young Man’…I know…but a majority of the time men are referenced by their name.
    • It is a sign of respect to not create a cute pet name for a fellow male colleague. You say ‘Bill’ or Mr. Anderson. That’s it.

But overall – when navigating the waters of verbal sexual harassment with women, there is no need to withdraw from communicating with them.  Apply the 3 rules and call them by their name, and you have eliminated 99% of your harassment mind field and can relax and communicate with confidence.

And again – when in doubt – leave it out.

It has been estimated that the English vocabulary includes roughly 1 million words …and SOME linguists would take that estimate with a chunk of salt, saying there are apx a quarter-million more words that qualify. So whatever you were about to communicate you have doubt about, there is multitude of worthy professional word and phrase alternatives you can choose from. Apply the rules, make an adjustment if your phrase doesn’t pass until it DOES pass these simple – then relax. You are in the professional communication safety zone.