Improper Racial Comments from Coworkers?

You are at the social hour of a business function and during the cocktail hour, and another sales professional takes an opportunity to give you, your manager, and the other individuals in your conversation group his “two cents”:

“I believe that this thing with Black athletes in the NBA is sickening. They are selfish, tattooed animals that make money from bouncing a ball and shooting it into a basket.”


You might not even like the NBA, but you immediately feel your temperature increasing because it was an overtly racist statement.  Statements like this do happen, and are not only offensive but also very revealing about the one who speaks them.

How should you react?  What actions should you take?  Are you in jeopardy when you make a complaint?  We will examine these issues in this post as you have probably heard comments that are offensive more than once.

Measured Reactions When it Comes from “the Side”

What do you do when these comments come from a coworker?  That is why I am referring to it as “the side” as opposed to “from the top” which would be management.

This may sound like a pretty simple question, yet it should be discussed.  Above is an example of an overt racist comment.  He specifically noted Black NBA athletes in his comments, and made a blanket statement about a league which is approximately 80% to 82% Black with an average annual income of $2.4M.  Regardless of his reasoning, he said it.  Additionally, whether he was right or wrong, the statement should not have been made.

Statements like this are “baiting” and designed to get you to move to the defense. In some situations they are clear indications that they forgot who was in the audience.  I aver that regardless of the reason, our response should be a simple and demonstrative as what I will describe shortly.

I certainly believe that any comment that disparages race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion affiliation should be met with an immediate response.  Whether they are veiled or not, you have the right to remove yourself from that conversation, and by doing so you will send a clear signal to the individual and the rest of the group that you are a professional.

At the first utterance, my suggestion is to not legitimize the comment by engaging in conversation or argument.  Comments like this are offensive and designed to get a reaction.   Having a discussion or even a moment of argument about it gives them what they want.  Even if you are incensed, I urge you not to legitimize it, but to take the following actions after the comment:

Think about the comment briefly and if it is racist, or darn close to it then I suggest you state one of the following, or something you have crafted for this type of occasion:

  • “I have no desire to discuss this issue”, then exit the conversation.
  • “I will not legitimize your comments with discussion or my presence”, then exit the conversation.
  • “I am as surprised that you have views like that and even more surprised that you would be insensitive enough to state them.  You will excuse me?”

Everyone in the group will know why you exited the conversation.  As a matter of fact this will give you a good chance to see how many of those individuals you work, including those you consider friends, have the intestinal fortitude (guts) to do the same thing.  These types of comments have no place in a work setting, and you cannot be selective about which ones to listen to, they need to all be met with the same response.

When someone makes comments like this in your presence, you can imagine what they say when you are not present.  Remember, you probably have the right to “go off” about the issue.  The problem is that you don’t want to give someone the power to be able to “push that button. “   They have shown their ignorance; now your demonstration of the fact that you will not listen to that garbage puts that individual’s action, as well as the actions of others that you work with in the spotlight.  Will they listen to these disparaging comments?  Will they partake of this type of racism (or sexism, or religious intolerance)?

If It Happens Again…

You must remember that everyone that you work with is not your friend.  You should show respect initially, yet that can change if they continually abuse it.  Note that if there is a second instance, then a discussion with Human Resources should be the action taken.

Any discussion with HR should be factual and clearly state the your objection to the comments as well as who was present as witness to the comments.   This is not “tattling” it is working to correct a wrong.  We know that sales people sometimes push the “envelope” in their comments and views.  Regardless, this type of scenario is unacceptable.  It should be clearly discussed that this is not the first time, and the date and time, and witnesses to the initial comment.  If you are truthful about what has happened you should not create any jeopardy for your job in this action.

I have seen jobs endangered, and terminated for comments that disparage racial groups, genders, and other items.  Your comfort should come in that you had the courage to speak up because chances are this is not the first time that a disparaging comment was made.

We appreciate your comments, I can be reached at

Customer Facing Skills that Win!

There is no easy way to be the best.  Part of it is achieving skills and attributes, and part of it is just plain hard work    The skills in this post will make a noticeable difference quickly.  Paying attention to these, and you wil see the benefits early and often.  Always be the best!


I hope I never sound like a broken record, but there are some ‘rules’ that I believe in.  One of them is being prepared; another is mastering the relationship.  Those two are important, but there are more.  Realize that you can change the game with these skills and activities.

It is imperative that you have command of some very important skills to help you be successful.  We are going to make the assumption that you have a command of the requisite sales skills.  Warning…those skills are not enough.  You need skills regarding relationship building, responsiveness, and being effective.

It is work being prepared, just as it is work doing those activities that make you effective.  There is no way out around that.  I assure you…these things will reward you for the rest of your career.

Skills and Activities that Change the Game!

Be an Expert or a SpecialistThe Expert

Visit these BSJ articles - Your Customer Needs an Expert and More On Being an Expert

Yes, your customer does need an expert.  They may not have told you, or they might have used some key phrases such as, “I need someone who understands my business.”  Customers do not want pretenders so study your trade and your area of specialization.  When you specialize, you will want to get some certification, accreditation, or degree.  In the absence of those being available, you will want some recognition notoriety.  One way or another, you want to be recognized.  Don’t take this one for granted as it definitely changes the game.

Network Effectively

Visit these BSJ articles– Networking for the Black Sales Professional and Know Your Elevator PitchNetworking

Whether you’re a sales professional that works for a larger concern, or an entrepreneur who runs a one-person shop, you need to hone your networking skills to a degree that you are effective and efficient.  You know the importance, as the professional who is solid at networking effectively is never without someone to present to.  Yes, it is speed dating at its finest but there is no activity like it that can yield these types of favorable results.  You will get a lot of practice at this and a lot of time for trial and error.

Create Deep Enduring Relationships

Visit these BSJ Articles – Deepening Your Customer Relationships and Deepening Your Customer Relationships Part II.  I would also suggest visitingRelationship Should You Ask your Customer for Feedback?

Unless your sales job is transactional such as a one-time sale, you will need to have an actual relationship with your customer.  You will need to get to know them, listen to them, and be responsive.  If you cannot develop a relationship that is more than casual, you are always at risk for another sales professional.  Relationships take time, develop dependence, and generate trust.  Who will risk their position, project, and profits on you and your product if you have not been able to develop a relationship?

Be ResponsiveUltimate Sales Professional

Visit these BSJ articles – Responsiveness – the Objective of the Sales Professionaland Following-Up! – Correspondence Creates an Edge.

Being responsive and exceeding expectations can separate you from other sales professionals.  Excellent follow-up is an activity that needs more attention.  It can begin to give you a special preference that accrues to someone that others can only hope to copy.   The responsive professionals are in demand because they do the things that others only do intermittently.  They communicate, keep commitments, and look toward the future.  This is a requirement to be the Ultimate Sales Professional (BSJ – Ultimate Sales Professional 1Ultimate Sales Professional 2, and Ultimate Sales Professional 3) as it definitely separates the professional. Responsiveness is easy to talk about, but more difficult to do, as it requires you to exceed customer expectations, and be what your company needs as well.  It can be done, and you will see that at a point, these two different objectives intersect at a point.

Be Memorable

Visit this BSJ article– Make Yourself Memorable

Thank You NoteIt is not good enough to be good, or even the best, if you are not remembered!  Take the time to make sure they remember you as it will show well for all reasons.  Always be the professional and never miss a chance to present your (yes, your) brand, as opposed to the company you work for.   Your brand in addition to being responsive and all of the other fine attributes, you stay close.  You drop a handwritten note showing your appreciation.  You pass along emails and newsletters that should concern the customer.  You strengthen the customer’s knowledge and he becomes dependent on you.

Master the Skills – Make the Money

There are more skills that you might need, and more that are crucial at different times, but in the sales arena, if you put these together along with the skills that make you accomplished within the organization that you work in, you can ‘change the game’.

Review the articles that I have shown, and you will see the specifics. Remember, you cannot gain mastery without working hard at these.  You will be accomplished with them!

Your comments are always welcome.