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Let’s get real: holidays are a ripe time for disagreements, office drama, and hurt feelings because we oftentimes are socializing with people with whom we don’t normally socialize.  This can be co-workers at holiday parties, neighbors at school events, or out-of-state relatives who are visiting.  Here are five Neversays for the holidays.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, etc.

Why?  Wishing someone a Merry Christmas, for instance,  suggests that there is only one holiday, or rather, one “right” holiday.  It ignores religious and cultural diversity.  It also opens the door for improper assumptions about people (for instance, two of my sons’ schools asked me to lead the Kwanzaa celebration although we didn’t celebrate Kwanzaa).

Exception: If you are 100% sure that a person celebrates a particular holiday, then it is acceptable to reference it and wish them well.

Say instead: Happy Holidays.  Have a great vacation.  Enjoy your time.

People Need to Put Christ back in Christmas

Why?  Again, this assumes the holiday season – and even Christmas itself – should be religiously focused.  It elevates one religion over others.  And there are many people who celebrate the Christmas holiday who are not church-goers or religiously oriented.

Say instead:  Nothing.  Just don’t say this.

At an Office Christmas Party

You look hot!  You need to dress more like this at work!

Why:  These comments put the focus on personal appearance in a sexualized way.  It can be received as a romantic overture, which poses problems for the speaker and the company.  It can also be viewed as marginalizing the talents and intellect of the receiver – as the focus becomes on attractiveness as opposed to merits.

Say instead:  So good to see you!  It’s great to spend some time with you outside of work.

I am so drunk!  I am so high!  I am buzzing!

Why:  The workplace is the workplace – even when it shifts for a night to a hotel ballroom, bar or other venue for a holiday party.  Saying you are “drunk” or “high” at work is never appropriate.  Professionalism requires decorum, and that is lost when under the influence.  Additionally, you increase the risk of inappropriate behavior beyond the mere statement itself.

Say instead:  I am having so much fun!  This is a great party!

To Someone Who is Grieving or looks down

 Smile, it’s the holidays!

Why: Holidays are not happy for everyone.  For some, who are grieving the loss of a loved one or the absence of family they can be a time that is difficult.  For others, the holidays can be a reminder of what they don’t have – either financially, romantically or with family.  Suggesting these people just “smile” and get over it is insensitive and diminishes their feelings and situations.


Say instead:  Are you okay?  I know this time of year can be hard sometimes.  I am here for you.

How can I help?

During the holidays, you should communicate as you do all days: be empathetic, be considerate, be respectful, and be aware of your purpose, audience and environment.

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The Accused Does Not Get to Be the Judge

I’ve stayed in more hotels than a popular hooker; and I’ve heard more confessions than an elderly priest.  As a diversity trainer, I used to travel around the country to various companies and conduct seminars on issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.  As a result, I frequently found myself in budget hotels in the middle of nowhere at night, eating “salads” consisting of only iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots, and listening to issues involving racism, sexism, ageism, gender identity, sexual orientation issues and more during the day.

The one thing I’ve learned about myself is that people seemingly feel comfortable telling me things that they are ashamed of or asking me questions that they would never ask anyone else. When I was on a company’s site, I would become the nameless, raceless, genderless bartender, people felt comfortable showing their darkest parts.


Consequently, I’ve heard raw bigotry, extreme pain, and genuine confusion; yet only one sentiment has ever upset me: arrogant dismissal.

That isn’t racist.  That’s not offensive. It was just a joke. She is too sensitive. There is nothing more offensive to me – and more importantly, destructive to the process of creating bonds of mutual understanding, healing and community progress – than when someone dismisses someone else’s experience and feelings and declares themselves the ultimate and determinative judge of their own behavior.

I have spent the same amount of time consoling those who are hurt, angry, offended, or indignant that they have been accused of being offensive or hurtful in the workplace as I have consoling those that they have offended.  Being accused of being biased, prejudice, xenophobic or homophobic goes against the moral fiber of who most of us have been raised to think America represents.   We have been told since we were in elementary school that America is the melting pot, the home of the free, one nation under God.  We watch heartwarming videos of kids of different races playing together and of people of different religions praying together during a tragedy.

On the other hand, racists are portrayed as ignorant, dirty, disgusting characters, who usually wear White robes and burn crosses at night; sexists are very wealthy, arrogant men, who openly harass the office staff; and homophobes as bible-thumping folks who think they can “pray” the LGBTQ out of people.  Understandably, no one wants to associate themselves with those people, so when someone accuses us of being any of those things; most people don’t deny what they said or did but rather will focus on proving that their words or actions were not wrong, and justifying their behavior and character.

The conversations often go something like this:

HR Director: Sarah, Jack feels insulted because you frequently call him “gramps”, have asked him repeatedly when he’s going to retire, and have cut him off at meetings by saying, “Jack doesn’t understand this generation” when he was giving his input about new ideas.

Sarah: That’s ridiculous!  Is he saying that I don’t like old people?

HR Director:  I don’t think he is saying you don’t like old people. He just said that he is offended by your remarks and I want you two to feel comfortable working here and working together.

Sarah: I am comfortable working with Jack!  I love old people!  My grandmother is one of my best friends!  Seriously, I call her almost every other day!  My dog walker is a retired school teacher.  I trust her with my two dogs!  I can’t believe that Jack would accuse me of being ageist!  Perhaps Jack is just too sensitive because he’s the oldest guy around here. Maybe he’s insecure.

HR Director: Let’s bring the conversation back to exactly what things you said that offended Jack.  For instance, have you said that “he wouldn’t understand certain things because he doesn’t know this generation?”

Sarah: Yes, but I didn’t mean any harm by saying that.  Geez, it’s true.  Jack is 69.  He doesn’t know about how tweens will respond to our Twitter campaign.  What I said is not offensive!

HR Director: Jack found it offensive.

Sarah:  I am so hurt.  I really thought Jack liked me. I can’t believe he is attacking me this way.

Sarah is so focused on not being considered a bad person or being labeled ageist that she can’t hear or accept that she may have said something that was offensive to someone else.  She isn’t open to even considering how her words or actions were received by Jack. This common reaction is a pathogen to understanding and growth and causes ill-will, gossip, work issues to spread like an aggressive disease.

None of us gets to decide if we have offended someone. None of us can decide what is offensive to another person. Typically what is offensive is rooted in one’s gender, race, religion, culture, life experiences.  And since none of us can be knowledgeable about all of these things for each person, if someone claims that you offended them; it’s best to learn how and why, so you won’t do it again.  Shouldn’t that be each person’s goal—not to be right—be to do right and strive not to hurt others?





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People Tripped Over Ellen’s Joke About Bolt

I laughed at Ellen’s tweet with Usain Bolt. I found it funny.It seems that even Usain Bolt found it funny, as he retweeted it. Does that necessarily mean that the tweet wasn’t racist? No, it just means Usain Bolt and I didn’t find it to be.

See, this is the thing: there is not a Dictionary of All Things Racist. There also isn’t an authority on all things racist. There are obvious vile phrases, but most remarks that cause offense are subjective in nature, in that what upsets some will not upset others (because surprise: not all women are alike, not all Black people are alike, not all homosexuals are alike, and so on). So, instead of having these irrational, hateful social media brawls, I just think we need to establish a few things:

Again, accept that most things are subjective. That means that there is no wrong and no right. What some deem racist, sexist, ageist, ableist, etc. will vary from person to person dependent on that person’s life experiences. When some saw Ellen’s tweet, they immediately saw or referenced this

ellen slave pic2

When you consider that someone may be working from that reference point, you can understand why they may be offended by Ellen’s joke. They aren’t wrong for being offended by it; just as you are not wrong for not being offended. People have different experiences, different levels of tolerance, are open to different types of humor.
But, if the joke offended many within an identity group, it is at a minimum, racially insensitive. You have to respect another’s pain: sympathize even if you can’t empathize. Additionally, you should avoid using any insensitive language at work (if you are interested in keeping your job).
Saying that you said something insensitive or racist does not always make you a racist (or sexist, or bigot, or homophobic, etc.). A lot of healing conversations fail to happen because people are afraid of being permanently labeled or our characters being smeared, so they immediately shut down and begin defending themselves. We need to allow room for people to make mistakes, to grow, to learn, we make room for healing. A rapper can make a song that has sexist lyrics and own a company with an extremely pro-female benefit package and be a wonderfully supportive husband. If we tag him a sexist–the conversation ends. If we explain how his lyrics are sexist, we start a conversation and begin change.
We must remember that Ellen is a comedian. Entertainers live on the edge of appropriateness. Music, jokes, art, etc. should be somewhat provocative.
We also must consider intention. Do I think Ellen is racist? No. Do I think that she had the slightest idea that this tweet would offend some-absolutely not. What I would love to see happen is a conversation. Her mistake should be used as an opportunity to learn. To show true caring, she should try to understand how and why the meme was offensive. When you offend someone, don’t put so much energy in defending who you are; but spend time in learning who the offended is and why they are hurt. Through that process, the offended person feels heard, seen and respected; and you grow. That’s how global healing happens–one incident at a time.

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Lochte’s Apology Was One Big Neversay

Sometimes we mess up.  We are human.  We do things that we shouldn’t do.  We only make things worse when we follow up on our poor choices with a deficient apology.  Ryan Locthe’s Twitter apology following his robbery controversy at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil was one giant Neversay.

Let’s first address Locthe’s chosen mode of communication (which technically would be more of a Neverdo than a Neversay).  Your purpose for a communication coupled with the intended audience should determine your mode of communication.


Whenever you deliver bad news or give an apology, it should be done in person. It shows that you are “showing up” to fully accept responsibility. Ryan’s first mistake was sending his “apology” via twitter, which is viewed as a light, casual, social medium.

Lochte’s mode of communication was poor and the substance of his communication was even worse. The chart below provides a rough translation of Lochte’s communication:


For not being more careful and candid ·      I’m not going to admit to lying
For my role ·      Suggest that he simply played a part.

·      That there are other guilty parties


It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a  foreign country ·      Makes him the victim instead of the perpetrator
…have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave ·      I am a victim

·      You should actually feel sorry for me

·      I had no other option

There has already been too many valuable resources dedicated to what happened last weekend, so I hope we spend our time celebrating the great stories and performances… ·      This isn’t a big deal

·      Get over it

·      I don’t want to talk about it anymore


Since the incident in Brazil and the subsequent apology, Lochte has lost all of his endorsements and loads of fans. I wonder if things would have played out differently had he delivered a sincere, heartfelt and direct apology.