People Skills Require A Shared Workplace Language


Janine Yancey



People often believe they have all the knowledge and skills they need to navigate the workplace without conflict … as long as they are a “nice” person. But here’s the deal… other than a few bad eggs… most people are “nice.” That doesn’t mean we understand people and can make the right “people” choices in the moment. People are complicated, which is reflected by the large market of therapists: marital counselors, family counselors, life coaches, etc. Work relationships are often just as impactful as family and romantic relationships, and just like those relationships, they require knowledge and practice to build strong “people” skills, essential when a person wants to support a healthy organization, aka, be a workplace culture keeper.

Problems arise when you don’t have the knowledge and skills to be a workplace culture keeper, and harassment is one of the biggest problems. But again, people are generally “nice” even when they’re acting in a way that another person perceives as harassing. How is that possible? It’s possible because people generally lack the skills and experience to navigate people issues and can end up disrespecting or offending someone without the intent to do so.

Not all unprofessional behavior constitutes illegal harassment

Our general lack of people skills is exacerbated by the fact that people are not precise when they communicate. People use the term “sexual harassment” to mean all sorts of situations – from managers pressuring subordinates for sex to comments/jokes that reference sex or gender to co-workers or managers that are just plain rude. These are three very different situations, but people use one term to describe all three. That’s neither precise nor good communication.

Further, calling a situation “sexual harassment” or calling a person a “sexual harasser” is an alarming critique that leads to people getting their backs up; increased emotions; adversarial entrenched positions and circling the wagons to fight claims — it does not lead to behavior change.

A shared language provides a platform for understanding

So how do we achieve behavior change? We achieve behavior change through upleveling our knowledge and skills about people issues; using a shared, more precise workplace language so people are using one term to mean a specific type of situation; and lastly, using the shared workplace language in an objective, de-personalized way so feedback about behavior or situations doesn’t trigger emotional responses – it triggers behavior change.

Between Patti Perez (our VP of Workplace Strategy) and myself, we have about 50 years of addressing and solving sexual harassment and bias problems in the workplace. We know what works and what doesn’t. That’s why we created the Workplace Color Spectrum® to serve as a shared workplace language so 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 Patti and I and we can tell you about the hundreds of thousands of well meaning space cadets in our workplaces.  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 enterprise 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 workplace problem. Watch our explainer video on The Workplace Color Spectrum®.

It’s naive to think “nice” people intuitively understand people and how to navigate complicated people situations. Working with people requires people skills and skills stem from knowledge and experience. Along with people skills, using a shared workplace language such as the Workplace Color Spectrum™ helps people communicate with precision, in an objective way that avoids conflicts all while changing workplace behavior.

If your organization would benefit from harassment prevention training, request a free course trial today from Emtrain, the CultureTech leader in creating healthy workplace cultures.


Janine Yancey

Emtrain founder and CEO Janine Yancey has been certified by both Federal and California courts as an expert in harassment training and investigations—she’s provided expert testimony on both topics. As a harassment investigator, Janine investigated allegations of harassment and misconduct within former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown’s office. Prior to the passing of the AB 1825 harassment training regulations, Janine successfully defended the City of Roseville in a five-week harassment jury trial and used the City’s harassment training efforts to help persuade the jury to return a verdict for the City. Janine has served as employment law counsel to many Bay Area technology companies, including Google. She also authored The HR Handbook to help young technology companies successfully navigate workplace laws.

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