National Edition

Insights from the Behavioral Science Guy: What to say to a flirtatious co-worker

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 2 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

“I’ve noticed a few things between you and (the staff member). I was very, very reluctant to discuss it with you or her because frankly, for the most part, it’s none of my business. I want you to know that I believe your personal matters are exactly that — personal. And I would not venture to intrude. The reason I’m bringing it up is that a few things you and she are doing are having an effect you may not be aware of. It’s creating discomfort for others and may even affect the quality of care we’re giving. Can I describe the concerns?”

With that said, share the behaviors you’ve observed. Then share the natural consequences that are occurring — or may occur — if the behavior doesn’t change. For example, share how you’ve seen people reacting. Add how you believe future reactions may affect the doctor, his patients and the team — or any other consequences you believe might be important to the doctor (or staff member when you speak with her).

For example, “I’ve heard nurses turning down extra shifts when it coincided with working when both of you were on duty. To be honest, I’ve even felt reluctant myself. I don’t like feeling that way because I’ve always thought you were one of our better surgeons. That’s why I decided to bring this up.”

Given that you don’t have power to force the doctor to attend to your concerns, the only source of motivation you can tap is these kinds of natural consequences. If you are astute in reporting what is already happening and insightful about the effects it has on things the doctor cares about, he is likely to listen. If you do this and the previous steps well, you’ll have the highest likelihood that you can get his ear and have an influence.

And if the concerns persist and cross ethical lines in the company, be sure to do what’s right in getting HR or compliance involved.

Best wishes. Your very question demonstrates your commitment to doing the right thing. I trust you will.


Joseph Grenny, the Behavioral Science Guy, is a New York Times best-selling author and co-founder of VitalSmarts. For 30 years, he has led a research team helping organizations achieve new levels of performance.

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