Where to start when 'humour' is used inappropriately? Trigger warning
November 24, 2021 1:23 AM   Subscribe

A young patient at the new job I have found a murdered woman :( :( Several people in the team wanted 'all the gory details' etc and horrific detail was shared and 'joked' about. Appalled and distressed I left the meeting and went to Management. We spoke about how 'humour' is sometimes used to cope with difficult subjects. I get that.. to a point...

Boss wants to know how I think this should be approached. I know training can help.. to a point.. but where do you start with that level of indecency, misogyny, insensitivity and lack of professionalism? We don't work in forensics where such 'humour' may be a survival mechanism, we are supposed to be caring!
posted by tanktop to Human Relations (11 answers total)
This is tough. My gut feeling is that this is not something that can usefully be dealt with by management. Your co workers would be unlikely to respond well to a top down directive or training about their sense of humor. The most effective way would be for you to show them how much you are distressed by this, but that requires you to share your feelings and possibly feel vulnerable, and I'm not sure it's fair to expect you to put yourself in that position.
posted by Zumbador at 1:59 AM on November 24 [4 favorites]

This is sort of long and rambly and not quite as put together as I would like it to be. I hope it might be useful in some way. I feel as it is worded this question is also difficult to answer your question, but I will try.

On a workplace level, I find when in groups of coworkers about serious topics and people are being handled in a non-ideal fashion is to stress in the moment that this shouldn't be done at the very least not right now in front of you. If they do not respect that, then you are able to go to higher-level employers and report your communication and how the coworkers did not respect your boundary.

So the next conversation with management would go like "They wanted to talk about details of x, I said that I was uncomfortable with discussing these things because it feels indecent/misogynistic/insensitive/etc for a xyz reasons, and they continued to do so anyway" is much more actionable on an employee level. Because when somebody asks for someone not to talk about the thing, and they continue to talk about that thing, the employee who did that is in the wrong regardless of the topic.

There is a point when discussing these things (and they impact staff as well as the person experiencing them, so there should be a discussion of difficult topics when they come up, how management debriefs staff and supports the people who experienced the event . There should definitely be training if this is a kind of situation especially if you will run into on the regular.) However, talking about some of these things is going to be uncomfortable and distressing because it is distressing content. I have been privy for far too many conversations about stuff that has happened, and there is no padding the bad things that happen in the world that will make them less awful, indecent, or whatever.

In addition, there is an art to creating a space for people to express their feelings without it being voyeuristic or jokingly or whatever. But in these spaces in which one is around a bunch of very serious things, there will be people who throw offhanded comments, and that is a legitimate way to cope, but that is different than giving a non-needed detailed discussion of the event. Also, it is important for staff in trauma-informed care settings to be aware of not only their patients but their staff members' reactions to things. Part of the point of trauma-informed care is to be aware and respectful that different things can impact people in different ways for a variety of reasons, and you can modify your own behavior to make someone more comfortable, which all staff can very well use those tools with everyone on everyone, including you!

You wrote patient, so I am making some assumptions in the following.

It is important to think about who needs to know what, is it possible that there were staff members informed that shouldn't have been? If everyone involved needed to be made aware, did you discuss staff responses to patient and clinical considerations that may need to be taken into account? When discussing specific cases with the whole team, there should be a format that is being followed in which the basics of the case are being discussed, there is time to comment from staff on specific observations or things that have been noticed, and then a discussion of the plan and an agreement from the team before moving onto the next case. When you define discussion in these terms, it doesn't leave much room for joking about or getting into dark humor or specific details that aren't relevant. The structure with a group leader really helps set the pace and keep some of this to a minimum, because it's easy to direct people on to the next step of the process or move on with asking the group to discuss the actionable next steps.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:09 AM on November 24 [2 favorites]

Just awful. I would also have been running out of the room as soon as that conversation started. Unfortunately, some people want to de-humanise the victims of violence. I guess I can understand why, but I really do not want to be in the room when it's happening.

What to do? This case has so recently been all over the news that it seems like an ok place to start: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/nov/02/met-police-officers-plead-guilty-over-photos-taken-at-scene-of-sisters-deaths Even coppers, with everything that's wrong with policing, are recognising that these are not subjects for humour & team bonding. Maybe bring that case up with your boss, and then leave it with them to decide where to go next. Feels like there's an opportunity for your boss to remind the group about basic standards of professionalism & discretion, at the very least.

(it's a bit weak of your boss to push the responsibility back onto you to decide how to handle this, btw)
posted by rd45 at 2:12 AM on November 24 [2 favorites]

I think your boss/management needs to institute a rule to the effect over, "Don't say, email, post etc. anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the NY Times,"

And the question to ask you boss, management and coworkers is, "Would you tell this joke in front of the patient or the victim's family?"

I imagine the repercussions from behavior like this being made public would not be good for the reputation or finances of this organization. It's in their self-interest to do something.
posted by brookeb at 2:34 AM on November 24 [11 favorites]

I would reinforce to your boss that nothing we say or do at work can be considered private. It is not home, it is a professional space.

Gossiping about the victim of a violent crime is making light of both the victim and of a patient's trauma. It reflects poorly on the team.

This is behavior that gets worse, not better, and will eventually be caught out by patients or the public at large.

It needs to be nipped in the bud, now. Employees can have their "dark humor" or whatever excuse they use on their own time, not in a professional space.
posted by champers at 3:48 AM on November 24 [17 favorites]

I'm so sorry that this is happening to you. This sounds like an awful situation all around.

Mr. Meat is often asked "oooh, can you tell me the best doctor stories?!" and his response is along the lines of "The stories aren't good, they're sad." It seems to work - reminding the asker that the situation is sad, not gory or fun or humorous, sometimes jolts them into realizing it's not appropriate to ask.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:09 AM on November 24 [9 favorites]

It's often unpopular to be the person who speaks up and says Okay, everybody, this is going too far but if you can be that person, you'll grow. You can think about why it's too far, and use persuasion If patients or the community heard this talk, we'd all be fired or humor You guys are making me want to totally hurl or just honesty This has gone from dark to twisted; let's move on. It's helpful in such situations to use some distraction and by the way, did anybody see yesterday's game/ news/ show? Can you believe that ref/ vote/ funny scene?

Some people will persist, I find it to be aggressive; they want to make other people uncomfortable. These situations can reveal bullies. Bullies only respect strength, which takes many forms.
posted by theora55 at 7:12 AM on November 24 [8 favorites]

nthing the comments by champers and rd45. Another current lawsuit has been brought by Kobe Bryant's family for sheriff's deputies photographing the crash site and sharing it "with friends" which got leaked to the press. Not professional. Not private.
posted by effluvia at 7:42 AM on November 24 [3 favorites]

"A young patient at the new job I have found a murdered woman :( :( Several people in the team wanted 'all the gory details' etc and horrific detail was shared and 'joked' about." Wow. This is assholish and an unfortunately not uncommon attitude. I have known EMTs to work a bit like this, and in that particular case, sometimes I could understand (they were often the people putting those experiences back together, sometimes literally).

The only suggestion I would consider is, "My friends *insert relative* was in a similar situation. The way it affected their friends and family members was absolutely horrible. Otherwise, agreed with most sentiments above. Most of these reactions stem from people who most likely don't have the life experience to understand what it's like to be in this situation. If this were one of their relatives, or a spouse, etc, I highly doubt they'd respond this way.

Additionally, if it helps, as a way younger person I made a crack about someone who died at a popular diving site. Some people (who happened to be Europeans) suddenly cut the tone with, "-we actually personally knew the jumper, they were a friend." It killed any avenues for humor, immediately. I definitely never really made the same style of joke, again.

Honestly, an ambiguous statement is fine in this social situation. "That woman might be my second cousin's wife, her husband is a wreck."
posted by firstdaffodils at 8:54 AM on November 24 [2 favorites]

Some professions use black humor to deal with stress, but it doesn't sound like you're in one of them.

I would try to coach rather than admonish, like "we are not counselors, please leave talking about traumatic situations to the professionals, instead, we should redirect... (and so on)"
posted by kschang at 10:09 AM on November 24 [1 favorite]

And if patient has made it clear that they don't want to talk about it, their wishes should be respected and the nosies ought to back off
posted by brujita at 2:34 PM on November 24 [1 favorite]

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