When You Don’t Find the Joke Funny
Humor helps all of us get through the workday (not to mention life in general). It can lift our spirits, decrease tension, and make us feel closer to others. But office humor can be tricky. What one person may consider funny or harmless can be interpreted by a co-worker as intolerant or mean-spirited. Reacting to such jokes can be difficult, too. Nobody wants to be considered a stick-in-the-mud who lacks a sense of humor, but keeping quiet when you find something offensive is likewise uncomfortable.
Kerry Patterson, co-author of Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior, recommends using a three-strike approach when dealing with the offender:
- Strike one: Assume no evil intent. Keep your tone easy and dialogue inquisitive. Perhaps the jokester doesn’t realize the offense and will happily refrain from doing so in the future. Try approaching the issue as a “coaching moment.” Explain the inappropriateness of the behavior and the consequences you’ve observed of that behavior in the workplace.
- Strike two: Focus on the pattern. True verbal harassment usually involves patterns of inappropriate behavior or remarks that build up over time. If the jokester is notorious for his or her offensive remarks, don’t make the mistake of confronting a singular joke or “overreacting” to one incident.
- Strike three: Ask leaders to set and uphold expectations. Ultimately, leaders are responsible for making it clear that all forms of disrespect, sabotage, and bullying are unacceptable at work and for asking the entire workforce to hold one another accountable to those guidelines.
Two things not to do: preach a sermon or jump to conclusions. “When your goal is dialogue rather than monologue, your crucial conversations tend to lead to mutual learning rather than dueling defenses,” Patterson says. “Begin with your perception of the facts. Calling someone racist or sexist only elicits defensiveness. Instead of making these kinds of rash conclusions, stick to describing specific phrases and hurtful words used as well as specific reactions you observed during the inappropriate joke. Encourage other onlookers, as well as the perpetrator, to share their perceptions of the same situation.”