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8 tips for talking about sexual harassment with caregivers

EMS leaders set the tone for nurturing employees and moving organizations forward with integrity

Here are eight tips for talking about sexual harassment with your employees.

By David Nelson, DMin

Like families, organizations are challenging in the best of times. They can become even more difficult during divisive movements. The recent “Me Too” movement, bitter political divides and other trends have challenged most of us to pay even more attention to the importance of creating a workplace of excellence. Here are eight tips for talking about sexual harassment with your employees:

1. Create a welcoming organizational culture

As leaders in public health and safety, we can help set the tone for our local communities. At their best, our organizations reflect our communities in racial, gender and lifestyle variations. By nature, human beings appreciate diversity. Leaders can clearly articulate the vision of celebrating the gifts of pluralism.

2. Empower every employee

From the longtime employee to the newest hire, we constantly remind our entire staff how much we value them and seek to provide appreciative supervision. Supervision is more about observing and celebrating than monitoring and correcting. All personnel in every organization can be given appreciative supervision that continues to remind them of their value to the team.

3. Listen fully to others

As a leader, it is very important to listen to our caregivers and supervisors. Good coaching is about asking powerful questions, listening to success stories, providing developmental opportunities and celebrating successes.

Employees need to know you fully hear them and their concerns before you “fix” them, correct them or even endorse them. Too often, we respond too quickly in giving our wisdom before the other totally feels listened to and respected. Remember, no two people experience anything the same.

4. Take the issue of sexual harassment seriously

This issue is being exposed and felt differently these days. Being revealed are long buried fears and frustrations that can become explosive. Now is the time for patience, respect and courage. It is imperative that opportunities for training and deeper understanding about the dynamics of human interaction be made available for all of us.

5. Be very clear about your boundaries

Everyone has boundaries related to behaviors of others that are unacceptable. These include ways we touch each other, speak to each other, even tell each other questionable jokes. Each person can identify and share his or her boundaries with others. They will, of course, vary among individuals. One way to approach this is to communicate clearly and listen to the other person.

I can’t read your mind, but I can listen to your statement. You are not responsible to take care of me, but we can work together to interact in a way that honors each other. Some people are “huggers” but that does not give them the right to hug anyone. Only through open conversation can we establish how best to interact with each other. Understand your boundaries and educate those around you. Understand and respect the boundaries of others, as well. This will assist in building collegial and powerful teams.

6. Identify, celebrate and nurture appreciative relationships

The current struggle can become the gateway to more empowered caregivers and supervisors. Use this issue to increase the respect for all people, especially those most vulnerable. Intentionally reach across the barriers that separate to build bridges of deeper understanding and appreciation.

Interrupt inappropriate jokes and conversation that demeans or sexualizes others. Do not tolerate disrespectful or inappropriate behavior in yourself or others. Be open to learn how your words or behavior can be perceived by others in a hurtful or intimidating way. Apologize when you have hurt someone. Leaders are responsible not just for what they say or do. We must also be mindful of how our words and deeds are received and experienced by others.

7. Celebrate co-workers as allies and friends

The workforce in prehospital care and medical transport is becoming more and more like the communities we serve. As the entry point for much of the medical community, we must light the way for the rich diversity in our world. We can assist in establishing a more welcoming world for all. Our teams, working together to assist the communities we serve, can become models of men and women working together, respectfully and appreciatively with each other.

8. Be the change you wish to see

Leaders embody the vision of a more welcoming world. We each make a positive contribution to a safer and wonderful community. As a leader in your organization and community, you are the one person you can impact the most. As you model respect for others, there will be more and more respect. When you show compassion, courage and discretion, the world around you becomes a better place.

Organizations are living organisms. They move in the direction they pay attention to and in the direction of the questions they ask. As organization leaders, if we continue to nurture an appreciative, safe and welcoming workplace, the service we provide will more and more reflect that reality in the world. What we pay attention to becomes our reality. Conflict reveals possibility. Appreciative organizations use these opportunities to deepen their understanding of each other and their commitment to their vision and mission.

These may be challenging times, but they are our times. We can focus on opportunities like the current issues. By focusing our energy and leadership on colleagues as allies and friends, we turn a challenge into an opportunity. By staying honest and taking all concerns seriously, we deepen the trust our employees have in us as leaders. By staying open to every situation as a place to grow in integrity and team spirit, we will move our organizations and ourselves into an even more exciting future.

About the author
Dr. David Nelson serves with Fitch & Associates as a human resources consultant, trainer, and appreciative inquiry coach. For more than two decades, he has been an onsite coordinator for the annual Ambulance Service Manager’s (ASM) certificate program conducted by Fitch & Associates.

For more than three decades, the Fitch & Associates team of consultants has provided customized solutions to the complex challenges faced by public safety organizations of all types and sizes. From system design and competitive procurements to technology upgrades and comprehensive consulting services, Fitch & Associates helps communities ensure their emergency services are both effective and sustainable. For ideas to help your agency improve performance in the face of rising costs, call 888-431-2600 or visit