Leaving is the right answer when it is the best answer for you to take yourself to the next level of who you were meant to become. Don’t leave until you are leaving from a place of power and love. The one exception I would give is that, if you are in immediate physical danger, always leave if you can and call 911. If you are not in immediate physical danger, going through this is what will strengthen you and show you what is possible for you.
Staying and standing your ground in any kind of harassing situation does not mean sitting back and taking it or ignoring it. It means clearly identifying where your boundaries are and enforcing them with consequences. Staying is for you, and it does not mean giving up any of your space.
Setting a personal boundary is like setting a property boundary. If your neighbor starts coming through your door, you would probably (I hope) tell him to leave or you’ll call the police. The same is true with setting your personal boundaries. In order for you to need to enforce a boundary, there needs to first be a boundary violation. This is different than being deliberate about what you say “yes” to. So, for example, if your business partner does not appreciate your work or pull his weight in the office, that is not a boundary violation. You always, in that situation, have the opportunity to say yes or no to picking up the extra weight and to choose how you want to feel about his level of appreciation. That has nothing to do with boundaries.
If your business partner is coming into your office without knocking or yelling at you in public, that may be a boundary violation. You get to decide if that behavior crosses your boundaries and what the consequences will be (to take care of yourself) if it does.
When we want someone to do something so that we can feel better (appreciated, happy, safe, satisfied, or any other good feeling), that is like having an instruction manual for how they will act to make us feel good. A friend may want me to come to her baby shower, but it does not violate her boundaries for me to say no to that invitation. She can choose to be unhappy or angry about that, but it still would not be because I crossed a boundary.
On the other hand, if I showed up in the middle of the night at her house, that may be a boundary violation.
You don’t have to tolerate any behavior you don’t like, but setting consequences is different than trying to control or manipulate people to make ourselves feel better. For example, I had a friend living with me to get away from a violent boyfriend. I knew that if she was not honest with me about continuing to talk to him or if he came over to the house, she could not continue to live with me. When that happened, we found another place for her to live. It was not because I was angry with her, and I absolutely still loved her, but it was just the consequence I needed to set to make sure I was safe.
One common consequence I recommend for inappropriate sexual comments or touching in a professional setting is talking about the behavior and reporting it. Just talking about someone else’s bad behavior protects you from taking responsibility for it. If you talk about it, make sure you are talking about it in a way that makes it clear it is not your responsibility and that takes care of you around the behavior. Remember, the purpose of setting a consequence is to protect yourself, not to punish the other person. Other consequences are just walking away, locking a door, changing the locks on doors, calling the police, or documenting behavior in writing and emailing it to multiple people including the harasser.
If you are doing any of these behaviors as revenge, that is really different than setting consequences for a boundary violation. Consequences are always to protect you, which is your business. How he feels about something is none of your business – not because wanting revenge means something about you, but because it feels terrible for you. If you get wrapped up in how he feels, whether you want him to feel bad or good, that is a big win for him. It means you are taking care of him (even if you are punishing him) rather than taking care of yourself. That’s two people on his side, and zero on yours.
Be your own advocate. Defend your career, don’t attack his – he is already on a self-destruct path, and you don’t need to get caught in its wake. Be on your own side. I’m already on your side, and I know you can do it.
This is a selection from Career Defense 101: How to Stop Sexual Harassment Without Quitting Your Job. For a free copy of the book, visit www.CareerDefense101.com. Or you can purchase online via Amazon or Barnes & Noble (paperback $16.95, hardcover $24.95).