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Dear Caroline,

I have a new job and I like everything about it except for the atmosphere in the break room.

My coworkers love to make sexual jokes and tell raunchy stories. I’m not a prude, but I find the whole situation tiresome and embarrassing. They’re otherwise nice people and good workers, and their humor, though crude, is harmless. I don’t want to get supervisors or managers involved. I just want to eat my lunch in peace. What can I do?

…Red-Faced in Roma

Dear Red-Faced,

Everyone deserves a workplace where they feel safe and respected. That’s why companies in most countries now have policies and grievance mechanisms designed to redress sexual harassment.

However, using or foregoing the resources provided is your choice. If you’re determined to move forward without a support system, here are three strategies. Choose the one that suits you best:

1) When the conversation gets offensive, get up and walk away. Not in a huff or with any explanation or drama. Being cool, calm and collected should get the point across.

2) Be a put-on. Next time they’re laughing at a crude joke, look bewildered. If your puzzled expression gets their attention, tell them, very seriously, that you have no idea what they’re talking about. Keep up the charade. When people don’t know whether you’re kidding or not, they’re often thrown off balance enough to think twice about their behavior.

3) Bring earbuds and enjoy good music, an audiobook or a podcast instead of their juvenile banter. Once you make a habit of enriching yourself in this manner, you’ll see the break room as the sanctuary it was intended to be.

I’m interested in knowing which strategy you choose and how it goes.


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