The Art of Calling In: How to Stop Behaviors That Threaten Well-being at Work

The following is a summary of a presentation given at the 2021 Maryland Workplace Health and Wellness Symposium on September 15, 2021. To view the full presentation, click here.

It’s not just your imagination. People are feeling emboldened to say hurtful and offensive things. The barometer has moved where we are culturally less tolerant for bullying and joking that it’s inappropriate in the workplace. However, sometimes employees deliberately want to put coworkers down. Maybe their intentions are not malicious, but the impact is detrimental.

Leaders and managers are the answer to mending hurt in the workplace and guiding people to better behaviors. They are the answer for helping coworkers recover from unkindness and bullying.

Well-being at work is deeply tied to feeling respected in the workplace. If you want healthy, happy employees, they need to feel respected. And according to Sharma, in their annual Employee Satisfaction Engagement Survey, the most critical factor for employee satisfaction is respect. More than compensation, benefits, opportunities, and promotions. Year after year, it’s respect.

Respect is the healthy foundation for thriving at work. Work needs to be a sanctuary. It needs to be a place where people can be themselves, and respect is the foundation.

Conversely, when employees feel disrespected, it negatively affects their self-esteem, mental health, job performance and company loyalty. It is even more damaging when disrespect is met with silence in the workplace.

Teaching and promoting respect in the workplace starts with leaders and managers being curious, gathering information and taking action. Let’s look at why calling in is an effective method for building a workplace that creates a culture of respect.


Calling Out

To understand the art of calling in, we first must recognize calling out. Calling out gives feedback publicly about a hurtful or oppressive act or language. It has an essential role in society, and it gets a bad rap, but it shouldn’t. Calling out is a tool of interrupting oppression. It’s about publicly warning people about predators or toxic people. There are times when calling out is vital, but it can also have very public ramifications.


Calling In

Calling in originates from the verb to summon. In the workplace, it refers to checking your peers and getting them to change problematic behaviors with compassion and patience. Leaders and managers need to start feeling comfortable calling employees and themselves in when mistakes happen.

Calling in is not a platform to launch into a lecture, and it’s not shaming and it’s not getting people stuck in their guilt. The purpose is to recognize that people are complex and multifaceted and that one instance of an oppressive behavior or a mistake doesn’t define who they are.

We still value their humanity, and we, as humans, are allowed to make mistakes. But calling in is a powerful tool to address those mistakes and create space for change and positive impact. It’s also an opportunity to model civil behavior and model healthy communication.

There are a few considerations when calling in someone.

Is it safe to do so at this time? If it is not physically safe to call in the employee, have a follow-up conversation when it is safe to talk. In the meantime, work on de-escalating the situation and helping them feel calm. The safety of you and your employee is paramount.

How much emotional labor and energy can you give? Sometimes it can feel daunting to call in people. You might be worried about messing up or even how to do it. If you’re feeling vulnerable or tongue-tied, it’s OK to step back. There will be more opportunities to do this work.

What outcome do you want to achieve? You will need to determine if you are trying to raise awareness with the individual or set a tone in front of everyone. If the situation is a public act, you might need to intervene at that moment to set the tone that that’s not OK.

What action is warranted and why? We all have competing needs at work. When you believe that a person can make mistakes, give them grace and foster a relationship and change. But there may be times when calling out is more appropriate for a teaching moment.


How to Call In?

When you’re calling in, it is best-done one-to-one, in person or a Zoom meeting or over the phone. Think of calling in as a relationship builder. It’s based on that concept of having empathy.

When calling people in, you must find your style and be authentic. Remember, you are summoning someone for the greater good.

The best place to start is with curiosity and allowing someone to clarify what’s going on for them. Ask, “What did you mean by that?” “Where did that come from?” “Tell me more.” Or “I’m curious what you’re thinking.” Be sure to give the person a chance to explain and back off the remark.

Next, validate and then reframe. Try saying, “Your intention was lighthearted, and it didn’t mean any harm. But at the same time, it upset your coworker and it upset me. Why do you think that is? What impact do you think you had and what could you have done differently?” Validating their perspective of why they said something challenges them.

Another calling in style is to be direct. “I noticed what you said, and it sounded disrespectful. Can we chat more about it?”

Finally, you can appeal to their sense of humanity. “I know that you’re a deeply caring person. And this comment doesn’t match you. How can I support you to mend that discrepancy? How can we move forward?”

Want to dig deeper? Watch the entire presentation.

Post Written by

Senior Performance Consultant

Natalie is a Senior Performance Consultant at BHS, providing consultative services relating to behavioral risk factors including workplace violence, bullying and substance abuse. She earned her master’s degree from Lewis and Clark College in counseling psychology, marriage and family therapy. Natalie began her career as a case manager for the Portland Women’s Crisis Line. She served as a direct service advocate for women who had been victims of domestic violence. Natalie also chaired the Sex Worker Outreach Coalition where she helped streamline services for sex trade workers and sex trafficking survivors and collaborated with law enforcement for victim assistance.