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How do you talk about harassment?

How often have you heard someone use the term harassment incorrectly to mean anything they believe is unfair or bad? And how do you think someone reacts when they’re told they’re a harasser? People get defensive, adversarial and communication breaks down.

The absolute key to resolving any workplace conflict is good communication. So in order to eliminate adversarial posturing and support good communication, we created a shared language and a common identification of behaviors which is simple and easy to remember. We decided to color code conduct so people describe conduct (not people) in non-offensive, non-adversarial terms. We call it the Workplace Color Spectrum®.

The Spectrum describes a range of behavior—from healthy to toxic and includes green, yellow, orange and red:

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Green

Green means consciously shifting your perspective, being socially aware and respectful of others. You bring your best self to work when you’re green.
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Yellow

Yellow means being unconscious and reactive to people and situations. You’re not your best self when yellow.
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Orange

Orange means consciously engaging in risky behavior by referencing legally protected characteristics (race, sex, gender, etc.) regardless of co-workers’ comfort. You’re engaging in risky behavior when you’re orange.
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Red

Red means the orange behavior happens frequently, negatively affecting and making the workplace toxic. Red conduct is illegal.
By using a shared, more precise workplace language, people can use one term to mean a specific type of situation that everyone understands and color-code conduct in an objective, de-personalized way so feedback about behavior doesn’t trigger emotional responses—it triggers behavior change.

Emtrain’s Janine Yancey (CEO) and Patti Perez (VP of Workplace Strategy) have a combined 50 years of addressing and solving sexual harassment in the workplace and they know what works and what doesn’t.

By using the Workplace Color Spectrum® as a shared workplace language, a young woman doesn’t have to tell an older male boss he’s a harasser when he keeps touching her back while they walk or he asks about her romantic life or he seems to find opportunities to give her a hug. The guy might be a well-meaning space cadet… just ask any Emtrainer and we can tell you about the hundreds of thousands of well-meaning space cadets we encounter as learners.

But is the 30-year-old woman really going to tell the 50-year-old man he’s a harasser? NO! Get real. But if the organization embraces the Workplace Color Spectrum® as a shared language to provide objective feedback on people actions, then the 30-year-old woman may tell her 50-year-old boss he’s a bit in the “orange” that day. If both people understand orange to mean slightly borderline or risky behavior, he’ll get the hint and appreciate the course correction before he creates a problem for himself or others.

Do you want to use the Workplace Color Spectrum® as a tool in your workplace? If so, download our Workplace Color Spectrum® Poster.