Friday, February 01, 2008

Strictly complimentary

You know you're in for an interesting lunch in the faculty lounge when a colleague (male) starts off like this: "What I'm about to say is not intended as sexual harrassment" (and a quicker-witted listener would interrupt with, "You mean unlike everything else you've ever said?"--except that in this case such a statement would be inaccurate) "but you look great!"

This led inevitably to a discussion about whether and when it is appropriate to compliment colleagues on their looks. When is "Nice tie!" just a comment and when is it a come-on? Does it matter if the giver of the comment is in power over the recipient? On a small campus, we all have opportunities to exercise some sort of power sometimes--by serving on a committee that grants money for faculty travel or makes recommendations about tenure, for instance, or by taking a turn as chair of the department. We're all occasionally in a position to help (or hurt) each other, but is complimenting a colleague's appearance helping or hurting?

We didn't solve the problem over lunch, but if you locked an infinite number of monkeys in the faculty lounge with an infinite number of attractive ties, perhaps eventually they would come up with some coherent guidelines on how to compliment colleagues without incurring a lawsuit. Until those monkeys arrive on campus, though, I'm accepting all compliments--and giving some in return.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Sexual harrassment is definitely not ok in any setting ... but regular, old, run-of-the-mill harrassment is perfectly fine!