Q: One of my coworkers has a habit of saying inappropriate things during meetings and at lunch time, but my boss doesn’t say anything. His motto is, "Praise publicly; criticize privately." The problem is we don’t think our boss is actually doing anything about the problem at all because it still happens repeatedly. Is his rule always the best approach?”

A: Correcting inappropriate behavior has a couple of courses of action. If it occurs in a public setting, someone should speak up immediately. Typically, people in the room will defer to the highest ranking individual present to take action and correct the behavior. That person can easily address the situation by simply saying, “That comment is inappropriate. We will speak about it one-on-one.” 

The old adage of “Praise publicly; criticize privately” is true to a point, but when the bad behavior happens publicly, it needs to be identified publicly. Then the other people who heard the comment know something will be done, and the person who made the comment knows immediately that what he said was inappropriate. If nothing is said at the time it occurs, others in attendance are left to wonder what, if anything, will be done about it. People, including the offender, also may interpret that the actions are acceptable because there was no immediate correction.

Encourage your boss to deal with the issue publicly if the behavior continues in public settings and privately if it occurs privately. Again, he can handle it one-on-one, later.

The more that inappropriate statements, jokes, comments or behaviors are allowed to continue, the more the offending person will assume that the behavior is acceptable.

Additionally, any time that anyone makes a comment that is racist, sexist, harassing or discriminatory, that person and his or her comment needs to be brought to management’s attention immediately.  Such comments can have devastating and far-reaching consequences and must be corrected without delay.

If you have questions for Dear Boss, send them to:

Don Tyler, P.O. Box 67, Stockwell, IN47983or e-mail to don@dontyler.com.

Your letter will remain confidential, and may or may not get an individual reply.