From day one he seemed like a great cultural fit, both with his team and the entire company. Years passed without incident. That changed after an offsite gathering, when a colleague claimed that Jeff harbored a prejudice against one of his black co-workers.
I was shocked.
I thought I was good at picking up on passive-aggressive interactions. Unfortunately, this time it’d slipped right passed me.
Immediately after hearing about Jeff’s behavior, I called him into my office. He justified his actions as harmless fun. He was just being funny; they were jokes.
No, Jeff was trying to get away with subtle racism. His black co-worker didn’t think it was funny, and neither did anyone else. We had to let Jeff go.
Learning new, disturbing facts about someone you know is always troublesome, but you must defend your core values. These are the moments that define how employees interpret what sort of behavior is acceptable at your company—and what your culture truly consists of.
Establishing trust with uncomfortable conversations