CUS Words - Fending Off Harassment

Recently a friend of my son's told me that a guy in her office is "kind of creepy" and made comments the other day about liking her shoes. I asked her what she did about it and she said nothing and that she was going to wait a few months and hope he stops.

This is a very common responses - especially among women early in their careers.

I suggested that she needs to start as she means to go and nip this in the bud. I offered several ways she could verbalize her displeasure with his attention. This reminded me of the concept of CUS words that hospitals use when building a culture of safety. It is shortcut for language that escalates if the first message isn't taken in. 

CUS begins with I am Concerned...escalating to I am Uncomfortable...and finally to this is a Safety issue.

Here's how using CUS words could work if you or someone you know is confronted with uncomfortable comments the same escalation can work this way.
  1. I am Concerned that your comments are focusing on my attire, shoes and not on my work. You might be trying to be friendly, but in the workplace how I look is not an acceptable topic for discussion.
  2. I am Uncomfortable that you are continuing your comments about how I look and again asking you to stop.
  3. Having asked you twice to stop commenting on my appearance, I am reporting you for Sexual harassment.
If you find yourself in a position of receiving unwarranted attention, try using CUS words to respectfully make clear your boundaries. Hope this helps!

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Lead ON!
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls.
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