Words Can Hurt

Words Can Hurt

Everyone enjoys a good joke, right?

Unless, of course, you happen to be the butt of the joke, then it’s not nearly as much fun.

Let’s face it: Words can hurt, especially in the workplace where professional courtesies ought to be the norm. But there are steps you can take to minimize the pain.

For starters, know what to say to neutralize even the most trying situations. For example:

  • A coworker uses a racial slur in your presence. Take a stand by saying, “That sort of language goes against our company values. We need to be respectful of everyone we do business with.”
  • Your boss calls you a worthless slacker. Never laugh that off. Say, “I’m going to need you to clarify that comment. In what way am I not meeting expectations?”
  • An employee starts screaming about a vendor. Temper their outburst with a comment such as “Help me understand how I can help you deal with this issue.”

And anytime your opponent excuses their behavior by saying, “I was just kidding,” don’t let them off the hook too easily.

Suppose someone always refers to you as “Blondie” and you don’t like it. The next time it happens, respond with a neutralizing, yet actionable, statement such as “I’d prefer it if you’d address me by my first name.” If he or she replies by saying, “Oh gosh, I was just kidding,” hold your ground: “That may be so. But my preference is still for you to refer to me by my name.”

A word of caution: In defending yourself against an offensive jokester, check with friends or colleagues to make sure you’re reading the situation correctly. Do other people see this person as harmless? Then perhaps you’re being over sensitive.

Before you act . . .

In all personal interactions, the one thing you can control is your feelings. So, if a jerk won’t change his or her spots, don’t devolve into a scold. Instead, focus on not letting the offending party get to you. After all, words can only hurt us if we let them.


Melissa DeLayRead all author posts

There are 4 comments on this post

  1. Carol April 14, 2016, 6:50 pm

    This is very good advice. I have an employee who insists on calling me dear or honey and we are both women. I’m using this statement the next time she addresses me in a condescending manner.

    • Melissa DeLay April 14, 2016, 6:53 pm

      Good. Just be sure to keep your tone of voice neutral.

  2. Kelsie April 15, 2016, 7:02 pm

    What if your boss only implies that you are a “worthless slacker”. For example, you are listening to directive from them, you ask a few clarifying questions (because the way they explained it doesn’t paint a clear picture of what’s expected) and they roll their eyes, sigh, and tell you they will not explain the same thing multiple times so they will just do it themselves.

    No, he or she did not say “You’re too dumb to handle this so I’ll just do it myself,” but I definitely get that impression from the interaction. What is a good response to this situation?

    • Melissa DeLay April 19, 2016, 1:04 pm

      Hi Kelsie, you have two choices in a situation like this: 1) assume until your boss “tells” you otherwise that all is well or 2) initiate a conversation about performance with a language like, “There are times when I question your confidence in my capabilities. Are there ways that I’m not meeting expectations?”