Another male politician, another allegation. Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden has been accused of inappropriately kissing the back of the head of former Nevada assemblywoman Lucy Flores at a campaign event in 2014.
This is not the first time the 76-year-old has come under scrutiny for his physically affectionate style towards women. At a 2015 swearing-in ceremony for former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Biden stood behind Stephanie Carter, put his hands on her shoulders and appeared to whisper into her ear.
However innocent or unconscious, these are physical acts that can make people feel uncomfortable. Regardless of Biden’s intent, Flores’ allegation is a reminder that women shouldn’t have to find themselves in uncomfortable situations. Lucy Flores’ speaking out highlights some points to remember for people who find themselves in difficult situations:
1. If someone’s behavior makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t blame yourself.
You have control over your actions, not someone else’s. Whatever you do or don’t do does not give another person the right to exert power over you or act inappropriately towards you. Inappropriate actions are not okay.
2. Share with the person that the behavior makes you feel uncomfortable.
Some people behave in ways in which they are not aware. The person may not realize that their behavior or style makes you uncomfortable. Other people may be comfortable with a certain style and others not.
Do not assume that the person recognizes your discomfort and, in turn, that the behavior will stop. Communicating can become an agent of change. Tell the person how their actions make you feel. Give the person a chance to change and yourself the power to resolve the issue.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Flores was “quite bold” to “go up against the highest levels of her political party.” Let’s set the record straight. Speaking up is not bold. What is bold is the person’s belief that they can act inappropriately.
3. If the inappropriate behavior continues, report it to someone who will hold the person accountable.
If all else fails, tell someone at your organization about the person’s behavior. Their superior or human resources department may be able to hold the person accountable for their actions. In many organizations, employees are asked to bring up instances of (sexually) inappropriate behavior. Sometimes it takes a formal complaint for things to change.
Different people have different styles of interacting with people. Some behavior is illegal. Some behavior is inappropriate. All of it is unacceptable. While you cannot control other people’s behavior, you have power to hold them accountable.
How do you handle uncomfortable situations? Share with me your stories and thoughts via Twitter or LinkedIn.
Avery Blank is a Millennial impact strategist, women’s advocate and lawyer who helps others to strategically position and advocate for themselves to achieve individual and organizational goals.