Scenario #15: Cocky in the Cockpit?

This month’s Second Sunday Scenario #15, in Getting Ready: Your Journal to Help you Deal with and Heal from Sexual Harassment challenges us to think about how we might react in the situation in which our airline co-pilot incessantly tells sexual jokes and forces a pick-up-line contest during a 6-hour flight.

With the intent to help each one of us take on the vantage point of the other, we are asked to think about reactive behaviors as well as proactive behaviors for each possible role in the scenario – the victim, the harasser, the witnesses and the HR/Supervisors.

Here are some of the comments, questions and insights that this month’s discussion raised…

Gateway Behaviors

During the UCSD Global Empowerment Summit in October 2018, I spoke up about sexual harassment on the “Time to Rise” panel dealing with human trafficking because I see sexual harassment as the gateway behavior to the spectrum of sexual misconduct behaviors. Many of today’s child safety trainings teach us that sexual predators scope out their prey days, months and years in advance, testing them with single, subtle compromising situations in order to gauge their potential.

Could it be that telling sexual jokes and inventing pickup lines is the prelude to sexual harassment or even sexual assault for colleagues?

These three articles about sexual misconduct in the airline business offer real-world scenarios in which one risky choice turned into workplace harassment, even assault cases with negative impacts on all those involved – victim, accused and HR/Supervisors. If we can get good at nipping these gateway behavior scenarios in the bud, we stand a better chance of avoiding the career-shattering scenarios all together.

Permitting vs. Interdicting

Eric Olson, four-star admiral and the commander of Special Operations Command in the U.S. Navy has been quoted saying: “What you do and what you tolerate in your presence best demonstrates your standard.” This missive applies to this scenario very well.

For some, it’s perfectly OK to tell sexual jokes in the workplace. For some, it’s absolutely not. The question is which standard do you live and work by? Will you permit this behavior, or will you interdict it?

If you are the type to permit the behavior, where is the line that marks the difference between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior? Certainly, the federal and state governments have defined where the line is. And most likely, the airlines have some kind of HR policy that addresses the issue. If you choose to have a different definition of what is acceptable workplace behavior, how do you make that perfectly clear to all your colleagues?

If you are the type to interdict it, how do you do that? Doing it too harshly might aggravate your colleague. Doing it too wish-washy, might send mixed messages. Mark Divine’s Unbeatable Mind Operating System offers one way to interdict one’s own emotions and behaviors to help us align to our own values – W.I.R.M.. It makes sense to me that that same technique to forge mental toughness would be very useful in mixed company, while at work.

Alternative Topics

It makes sense that one might prepare ahead of time alternative topics to talk about in those 6 hours. What other jokes could you tell each other? What other topics would interest him? Her? Them? Yes, investing your precious time in planning topics to steer the conversation in a direction you can be a part of is a huge commitment. But wouldn’t it be worth it?

Active Listening

If you are “that guy,” the guy (or gal) that usually tells these types of jokes and is now realizing that your behavior crosses the line of acceptable standards, then what can you do about it?

The best option is to stop telling sexual jokes and coming up with pick up lines at work, especially in tight spaces in which you and your colleagues are confined to for hours at a time.

But if that advice is advice you just can’t adhere to, then perhaps you would consider taking active listening classes. Here’s a few possibilities of what might happen…

1.   You will learn to ask good questions… and listen, fully listen, to the answers.

2.   If you ask your colleagues if it’s OK to do these things at work, and they say no, end of story. Stop telling sexual jokes and coming up with pick-up lines at work. And thank them for their courage and honesty. Hopefully, you have alternative topics of conversation lined up to fill the now-awkward silence.  

3.   Not everyone can say no without fear of retaliation, so your colleagues may sometimes say yes, but the rest of them says no. Face it, the federal government, the state, the airline have all said no, but they’re not in this tight, confining space with you for hours at a time. This is where active listening comes in.

If they say yes, listen to see if their answer, as well as their body language, their tone of voice, and their participation all line up. Whether they do or whether they don’t, help them learn to say no to you and not be afraid to do that.

Because, in this scenario, the answer should always be no.

What do you think? 

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Getting Ready: A Journal to Help You Deal with and Heal from Sexual Harassment, by Sara Jones, was published in 2018 for victims, witnesses, harassers and HR/Supervisor types to reflect on ways that they can hurt or help themselves and others when faced with a sexual harassment scenario. The goal of the journal is to help us prepare for those awkward moments so that we can all successfully navigate through them and get back to doing the work we were hired to do.


Read more about this and other topics of discussion throughout this blog. To hire Sara to come speak to your students, your college, your workplace or your support group, connect with her on LinkedIn.

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