Qn: “One of my bosses is fond of starting awkward conversations in the office which I dislike. How do I get him to change his behaviour without actually having to talk to him about it?”
You give me too much leeway in the direction this conversation could lead us. I do not know how old you are, whether male or female, and I am not sure what you mean by the term “awkward conversation”. The word awkward could mean any of the following: — embarrassing, unpleasant, ticklish, vexatious, perplexing or simply delicate.
For this reason, we will assume that you are a young woman, working in a big organisation where the male boss is the problem. Remember also that we could assume that you are a young man with an embarrassing situation with a male boss.
The Me Too Movement seems to have been with us for many decades. In actual fact, it only went viral in October 2017. Few movements have changed society in the way this one has, from America, India, Africa, and the World. It seems to be growing in its impact by the day.
Time Magazine had as its front page, a group of women under the title, Person of the year, the silence breakers. Movements don’t get any bigger than this!
However, the movement has deeper roots than is often acknowledged. Tarana Burke founded the Movement in 2006, in US to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly women of colour from poor backgrounds. The idea was to empower them through empathy and letting them know there was help and that the harassment was not their fault or wrongdoing. Most importantly it was to let the women know they were not alone. There are others with similar challenges.
One of the many problems that exist in office settings in exactly what you describe. Awkward conversations in the office from the boss. Sometimes it is a request to work late when clearly there is no reason to do so. This sometimes comes with an offer of a lift home.
At other times it is a passing comment on the way one has dressed or made up on a particular day, in other cases it is just a look that is clearly more intense than it ought to be. In yet other cases, the innuendo is more overt and could include suggestion of a dinner or a weekend possibility. In all cases, there is an element of power play with the boss seeming “on top of things” including the pace and direction of the conversation. He initiates and terminates the conversation on his terms.
Other awkward office moments occur when there is close physical proximity as happens in corridors or lifts when one gets the impression that the contact should not have been “that close”.
All the foregoing happens not only to single but can, and does happen to married women who the boss ought to know might take offence, if only because they feel disrespected. The truth, however, is that married or single, all women (nay, all people) must be treated with respect at the workplace, and no “awkward conversations” are to be allowed. We have also seen female bosses who act in a similar way to younger men!
Right up front, you must not feel guilty or to blame for not tolerating this form of abuse. Since only one of “my bosses” is guilty of this unacceptable behaviour, you might wish to bring it to the attention of the other bosses. This you could do by any one of different ways.
You might start off by looking up the company policy on sexual harassment, if indeed that is how you feel. Your next step could be to talk to the HR partner on how you have been treated and then solicit their help and support. You will be surprised by their response.
Like the Me Too movement, you might surprise yourself by finding out that the HR department is aware of the problem and has already brought it up with the MD who has already planned action against your boss.
The option NOT available to you is silence, or to enter into a conspiracy of silence with others. Bosses who set their juniors up for “awkward conversations” are most times, spineless cowards, too scared of their wives or girlfriends. They must be put in their place. Such bosses have no place at the work environment and your duty to yourself and all your sisters is to say a loud and clear, “Me Too”! Hopefully this will expose another person who deserves neither respect nor mercy.