Mostly, when you work with someone for any length of time at all you can figure out if they were born with the Sense-o’-Humor gene.

Except for one person I worked with who had a sense of humor some days but not all days. We tried to get him to wear a badge – red on one side, green on the other – but he didn’t get the joke.

I rarely mind if someone doesn’t laugh when I crack wise. When they don’t know I’m cracking wise? That’s more of a challenge, especially as “I was just kidding!” has become the go-to excuse for anyone and everyone who’s been just plain offensive.

Meanwhile, a long-time subscriber writes of his recent trip to HR, the result of his having shown, at a company social event, the usual string of photos of attendees having fun and goofing around. What triggered the trip to HR: A slide showing one of the male attendees engaging in a minor bit of what he considered to be a harmless display of cross-dressing (women’s lingerie worn outside his clothing), which another attendee found offensive. To which, a few thoughts, musings, and concerns, starting with:

What offended the complainer? If they were offended by the cross-dressing itself, they’re the one who needs some HR coaching about tolerance. The “T” in “LGBTQ” might not stand for “transvestite,” but intolerance toward transvestites shouldn’t be acceptable.

The complaint might have been that the offender’s fashion statement ridiculed transvestites. That might hold water if this had been a repeat offense coupled with his having made derogatory statements about transvestites in general, or about a specific transvestite in particular. That wasn’t the case here.

My best guess is that HR decided to play it as safe as possible. Asking “What specifically did you find offensive about this?” could be counted as failing to deal with a harassing environment, and extracting a promise from the offender to never cross-dress at a company function again would seem to be a harmless way to close the matter and get on with business.

Except that extracting that same promise from anyone and everyone who cross-dresses at a company event would create an unwelcoming and harassing environment to transvestite employees.

Do all complaints require HR action? We are, to mix metaphors so badly you might want to complain to HR, on the knife edge of a pendulum you might think has swung too far. If businesses can only work when joking, joshing, and goofing around are banned because someone might find a way to take offense, that’s one more step in the evolution of employee/employee relationships, from interpersonal trust-based collaboration to interacting purely on the transactional basis of inputs and outputs.

On the other hand, as we’ve been discovering over the past several years, there’s no shortage of bigotry here in the U.S. of A. Should HR tell everyone who’s been offended by an overtly and expressively bigoted colleague to grow a thicker skin? That’s one more step on a different slippery slope – the one in which anger and hostility become the dominant characteristics of the business culture.

Bob’s last word: The problem managers find themselves dealing with when it comes to workplace harassment is that offensiveness, like its polar opposite, beauty, is in the eye (or ears) of the beholder.

My personal preference, which goes nowhere because it can’t, would be for the company policies and procedures manual to prescribe the process to be followed by anyone who’s been offended by anyone else:

Step 1: Inform the offender that you were offended, explain why, and ask that the offender not become a repeat offender.

Step 2a: If the offender acknowledges the legitimacy of the complaint and agrees to not engage in similar behavior in the future, case closed.

Step 2b: If the offender fails to acknowledge the legitimacy of the complaint, and repeats the offense, that’s when the person who’s been offended should contact HR, which would lay out the company’s you’re-way-beyond-our-zero-tolerance-for-bigotry-and-harassment policy.

But this isn’t going to happen – it would result in too much tangible risk, for rewards that are too intangible to warrant the risk.

The unsatisfactory alternative, which I unhappily recommend, is that we all need to be patient as the pendulum swings back and forth a few more times.

Bob’s sales pitch: Did you like what you read this week? Consider forwarding it to your HR director with my compliments. HR can’t be any happier about the numbification of the workforce than we are, and the more companies that are willing to try out alternative solutions the better.

If you do, let me know how it goes.

Now on Now on “Bad metrics are worse than no metrics,” and especially why SMART goals just might be worse than no goals at all.

I just read a political commentary – a hobby of mine I should take more care to resist, but we all have our bad habits.

This commentator’s theme was the importance of showing politeness to those who are wrong about one thing or another and accepting them as friends regardless.

Which got me to thinking: Those who think there’s always a right position when they evaluate positions are wrong.

Mind you, I’m not talking only about those who think their view is always the right one. I’m talking about those who think there’s always a correct view at all.

What I think … and I’m pretty sure I’m right about this … is that there are some subjects that do have right positions. Call them “facts,” because there’s some objective way of knowing what’s correct about them.

Here, for example, is a fact: I’m writing this column using Microsoft Word on a Microsoft Surface Pro that’s running Windows 10.

This isn’t disputable, or shouldn’t be. In principle, should someone doubt the correctness of this statement I could defend it, up to and including inviting skeptics to inspect my office setup, something I would be willing to do, although I’m confident you’d find the sum I’d charge you utterly unreasonable.

There’s a second meaning for right vs wrong, which happens when two parties agree on the facts but not on their interpretation. For many of us, this is where fun happens. It’s where we discover disagreements that can be resolved, or where we have opportunities to deepen our thinking about a subject.

Then there’s the third domain – values. This is where a lot of us get into trouble, because when we disagree about values there’s no way to reconcile them. Values come from tribal membership, religious leadership, and, more often than not, Mom.

If you and I disagree about one of our values, the best we can do is to decide whether we (1) agree with the other’s position; (2) can respect the opposing position (that is, acknowledge that it’s potentially as valid as our own); (3) can tolerate it, which is to say we can peaceably coexist with those who hold it, even though we are quite sure they’re entirely wrong about it. That leaves one last alternative – (4) zero tolerance – that this town ain’t big enough for the two of us.

There are people whose values can’t be reconciled, even to the level of mere toleration. There’s no point in pretending otherwise, which is why exhortations to “do the right thing” are so entirely useless: My right thing is your wrong thing and vice versa.

To illustrate: a stereotypical Apple fanperson must disagree with my choice of computer, operating system, and word processor, and doesn’t respect it, either.

So long as they can tolerate it, though … and there’s no reason for to not tolerate it, as it doesn’t affect the Apple-ite in any substantial way … neither of us has anything to worry about.

If, though, for some unaccountable reason, the Apple-phile decides they can’t tolerate having any Windows users on the same hectare as themself, one of us is going to have to leave town, probably after an unpleasant demonstration of how much we disagree.

Bob’s last word: Wherever politics happen – our interactions with colleagues in a business setting, or arguments about where government is headed in social situations – we’d all be happier, and more congenial, if we kept most political dialog in the second domain, where we disagree about our interpretations of facts.

Regrettably, reliance on “alternative facts” as a means of persuasion is on the rise, while familiarity with epistemology is not.

Well, I think it isn’t, but that’s based only on my day-to-day experience, not on formal, fact-based sociological research. Oh, well.

Anyway, I have a hard time tolerating those who deliberately craft alternative facts, and almost as hard a time tolerating those who consider their values to be facts.

But those are my values. And as you’re (presumably) a long-time subscriber I’m confident we can respect, or at least tolerate, each other’s values.

If you’re among those who can’t tolerate mine, that’s what the unsubscribe link is for.

Bob’s sales pitch: Have I mentioned the KJR archives? They include everything I’ve published under the KJR banner and its predecessor, InfoWorld’s “IS Survival Guide.” If you need the KJR take on a subject, whether it’s out of curiosity or because you need a framework or perspective to address a current professional quandary, they’re free and you’re welcome to use whatever you find.

Although if you make extensive use of my material I would appreciate attribution.

Now on metrics are worse than no metrics,” and especially why SMART goals just might be worse than no goals at all.