In this 2005 frame from video, Donald Trump (center)prepares for an appearance on 'Days of Our Lives' with actress Arianne Zucker (right). He is accompanied to the set by Access Hollywood host Billy Bush (left).
In this 2005 frame from video, Donald Trump (center)prepares for an appearance on 'Days of Our Lives' with actress Arianne Zucker (right). He is accompanied to the set by Access Hollywood host Billy Bush (left). The Washington Post—Getty Images

How to Defuse Trump-Style "Locker Room" Talk at the Office

Oct 11, 2016

In the video that leaked Friday of Donald Trump boasting about harassing women, Billy Bush—the former Access Hollywood host caught sharing the vulgar conversation with the presidential candidate—comes across as a chuckling co-conspirator.

Bush’s comments aren't particularly nasty; compared with Trump’s, they’re almost wholesome. But his gentle prodding of Trump’s lewd behavior, and his failure to pump the brakes when things go too far, make him a willing accomplice to some seriously troubling rhetoric.

As Lindy West writes in The New York Times:

“You can hear Mr. Bush (first cousin to George W.) wheezing ecstatically as Donald J. Trump brags, inadvertently into a hot mic, about sexually harassing and groping women.

“Sheesh,” he blurts, breathless, telling Mr. Trump how hot “your girl” is. You can feel Mr. Bush’s giddiness, a contact high, at getting to join a more powerful man in the oldest and most sacred of male bonding exercises: objectifying women.

The tape got just a few seconds of discussion in Sunday’s debate, and was instantly brushed off by Trump as “locker room talk.” In reality, though, that kind of banter could get the average person fired—and in fact, as of this writing Bush has been suspended from his role as co-anchor on the Today show.

What, then, should the average person do if they hear crude remarks in the workplace? Here’s a handy guide for the would-be Billy Bushes of the world.

Shut it down ASAP

“Sooner is always better,” says Joseph Grenny, cofounder of the organizational communication training firm VitalSmart and co-author of the book Crucial Conversations. “Don’t bite your tongue, even for a second. When inappropriate remarks border on any kind of verbal harassment, witnesses must speak up and confront the behavior.”

If you don’t speak up, Grenny explains, you “signal approval and support for the irresponsible comments.”

A short, firm retort usually gets the point across, says Michael Kasdan, director of special projects of the storytelling platform The Good Men Project. “[You can] say something as simple as, 'Man, that's not cool,' and turn away,” he says. “The whole thing deflates.”

If subtleties don’t work, spell it out for them. “Another strategy that goes a step further is to talk about women in your life who have experienced abuse and why you just don't think that's funny,” Kasdan says. “Let them hear a victim's story and change their own mind for themselves.”

Have a private chat

If the initial incident happened in a group setting, it might be worth gently re-approaching the topic the next time you’re alone with the bad actor.

“In cases where the language isn’t especially egregious, or the person isn’t clear on why what they said was offensive, you can have a one-on-one conversation,” says Rachel Bitte, chief people officer at Jobvite.

You can add a healthy dose of humor; everyone makes mistakes after all. But make it crystal clear that their behavior—verbal, physical, or both—is not welcome around you. “You can call attention to it without making it seem like a big deal,” she says. “Come up to them a few days later and say, ‘Hey, what you said the other day made me really uncomfortable.' It’s as easy as that."

Recognize your own bad behavior

If you’ve worked with your coworkers for some time, you’ve probably established a solid rapport based on good-natured teasing. That’s OK. Destructive rhetoric isn’t, though, and it’s your responsibility to put your foot down if banter delves into that territory, especially if you've let it fly in the past.

“If you’ve engaged in these kinds of discussions before, you have to own why you’re just now bringing it up,” Bitte says. “Maybe you’ve become stronger in your voice, or they’ve finally crossed the line.” If you’re a tight-knit group, “standing up can have a very positive effect on the work and colleague environment."

Report it

If the banter continues after you’ve asked the person (or people) leading it to lay off, it’s time to take a trip to HR, says John Haynes III, a Bowie, Md.-based leadership coach.

“Don’t settle for the pressure of an inappropriate culture,” he says. “People hate being judged as the 'goody two shoes' or "'the prude,'" he says, "but we have work to ensure the culture we want.”

Got it, Billy?

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