When you have lived as long as I have (please don’t ask…), the phrase “He’s a good guy” becomes a bit of a red flag. It is often used to defend someone who is good to the speaker but not so good to others, particularly those in another demographic group. The phrase can imply that perhaps the target deserves the harassment for some reason – they must be a difficult person.
In their hbr.org article, Stop Protecting “Good Guys,” Resa E. Lewiss, MD, W. Brad Johnson, David G. Smith, and Robin Naples, M.D. articulately describe the problematic nature of the “Good Guy” defense for workplace harassment in STEMM industries, and offer suggestions for addressing the problem. Their affirmative steps to improve situational awareness are helpful. They also recommend checking your own impulse to gaslight and behave differently.
My husband, a retired physician, taught me the phrase “check your own pulse first,” which I would add to their recommendations. When you want to gaslight by using the “good guy” defense, ask yourself, “Why do I feel the need to defend this behavior?” Explore your own feelings before considering the other players. Check your own pulse first, then check theirs.
Having empathy exclusively for a harasser will hurt the person harassed, will hurt you and your organization, and will ultimately hurt the harasser. Try to develop empathy for the “other’s” perspective, especially if you are inclined to use the “good guy” defense for what you know is problematic behavior.
When someone is good to you, that does not necessarily mean they are good to all.
On a lighter note, as a retired attorney, I noticed these authors focused on STEMM industries. They may have left out the legal field because it is not a science, or maybe because you just don’t often hear people describe lawyers – in any circumstances – as “good guys.” We tend to get a bad rap!
Take a moment to read this article and take your own pulse to see if you rely on the “Good Guy” defense when you should not.