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

Your Customer’s Greatest Need? An Expert!

Selling to A Sales ProfessionalBy now you know my sentiments regarding the strength of being an expert.  It was not only the post done on Black Sales Journal 12/20 -Your Customer Needs an Expert , but my many references to it in previous posts.  Being an expert gives you a type ofpreference that we all covet.  Black sales professionals should want to be bestowed with this tag any time that they can have it.

This type of preference is earned by doing those things in preparation that lays the groundwork for the ‘expert’ status.  We need to include doing things to get the notoriety and acclaim for having accomplished this groundwork.

What Makes You an Expert?

Being an expert means that you have a deep knowledge of a particular topic.  I have advocated that expert status gives youpreference, yet you still have to earn it by doing what is right in the customer’s eyes.  In other words, you still have to perform.

There are many things that may give the perception that you are an expert.  We will cover the items that generally customers perceive as helping to earn expert status.  Remember, perception is reality to the customer.

A positive perception can give you a preference that can be so powerful, possibly only being “triumphed” at times by the preference on the part of the customer of the “business friend” (Black Sales Journal 1/13 Deepening Customer Relationships) relationship level and some other relationship-based levels.

Here are some items that can help you be perceived as an expert:

  • Vast experience
  • Accreditations & Designations
  • Education, Certifications, and degrees
  • Renown Speaker
  • Letters of Recommendations and Reference
  • Association Membership
  • Publishing

There may be other items, yet these can be meaningful in attaining an expert status.

Vast Experience – This is solid.  If you are able to boast that you have a wealth of customers and have delivered solutions to them (Black Sales Journal 6/20 Deliver Solutions, Then Sell!!), you probably can boast to be expert on a class of business, geographic area, or product.  Grouping your customers to determine your expertise would be important.  You will need to “develop” a product or “package” offering, yet this is quite doable.

Accreditations  & Designations – These are important, and very durable.  Going through some type of training or educational program, and normally testing for proficiency in the end can result in attainment.  In some cases, they are very formal, and in other cases, they are less formal, yet they yield a “diploma” in most cases.  For example, my degree from a four-year university did not mean much in the world of commercial lines insurance, so I engaged in additional educational coursework and designations (CPCU – Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter, ARM – Associate in Risk Management, and AIAF – Associate of Insurance Accounting and Finance).  I showed these designations proudly on my business card to show my expertise as well as my devotion to the industry that I was in.   It was helpful in convincing many that I was committed and qualified.

Education, Certifications, and Degrees – This one is very much like the one above.  Note that education can include the extent of your education; including bachelors and masters level education.  Certifications can include completion of certificate programs that do not render a degree, yet do show the fact that completion of the program shows some mastery of the subject matter.  A sales professional selling institutional food products and cooking implements that has a certification in food safety would be someone who a restaurant owner might listen to.

Acceptance as a Renowned Speaker – I recognize that every sales professional does not desire to be a prominent speaker.  Some know a subject matter to such a degree that they can attain a “speaker” status.  If they know the subject matter well enough to help others by speaking on it.  If you are in that group, you can allow this to work for you by making sure that you have a platform to pass the information along.  This includes press clippings, mentions in blogs, or entries in your own blog or written information.

Referrals and Recommendations – This one is simple from the standpoint of making sure that those who have benefited from your delivery of solutions “reduce it to writing.”  It allows you to distribute the document to show your expertise.  The objective is to have a proof source to support your strengths.  It is more esoteric than some of the other solutions, yet it can be effective.

Association Membership – This one certainly does not denote true expertise, yet could support your commitment and professionalism.  It can be used in conjunction with the others to show the commitment that might tip the scale.  For example, if you are a sales professional who works heavily with the general contractors, you can join a chapter of a contractor organization.  Joining the New York General Contractors Association would be evidence of support for the group as well as a commitment to working with contractors.  It can result in you having the association logo on your card, and getting great information to use in your solicitation effort such as a members list, legislative information, and current issues and events.

Publishing – This would include having your information put to print, or could be something easier to do such as blogging.  This is more work than many of the items above, yet can be fruitful.  If you do it with other items like speaking, it could be quite easy as the subject matter would be something that you had an engagement on.  One way or another, it would keep you in the public eye, and addressing the issues.

You Still Must Perform

None of this makes a difference if you don’t perform when you act in the capacity of the expert.  Researching, answering questions, and acting as counselor (BSJ, The Consultative Selling Style  6/6/2011) only works, if you know what you are talking about, and give real value.

What is normally the case is that several of the items above are combined to assure a customer of the sales professionals expert status.  The sales professional who not only has the education, but also the certifications and designations, coupled with the requisite vast experience might get consideration as an expert by a customer.

When the Black Sales professional has one of these combinations, preference is within reach as few customers will avoid dependence on a proven expert unless the water is teaming with them.

Prepare yourself, and claim your status.

Your comments are welcome.  Write me at