Here’s a piece in the Boston Globe about learning how to react constructively when someone makes offensive comments at work. In fact, the majority of people, it appears, will say nothing, even though a comment offends their sensibilities.
Decades of research into bystander apathy shows that people freeze when they are in a group. “In one 1969 laboratory experiment, people were put into a room where they heard someone behind a curtain moaning about a hurt leg. Seventy percent of those who were alone offered help, compared with just 40 percent of those who were with a stranger.”
This does not surprise me. I am Jewish but for some reason, bigots do not realize that I’m Jewish. So I hear a lot of slurs against Jews and they always catch me off guard. Once my boss made a comment about getting “Jewed” out of something, and I said, “I’m Jewish.” Certainly, there are better responses — one that would educate, perhaps. But I couldn’t think of one on the spot.
I remember as a kid being told by the “Just say no” campaign how important it is to rehearse beforehand. I think this is true for diversity training as well. It’s very hard to come up with the right thing to say in the moment, but it’s important. To be a leader at work, you need to be a leader at bringing tolerance to the workplace. People who matter will admire and appreciate you for this.