Workplace bullies usually bloody their own nose

Dear Joan:

I would like to see an article concerning workplace humor. We work with our children and talk to them about bullying. Some adults in our workplace have the misconception that when older people pick on peers it is funny. Those on the receiving end of the sometimes mean-spirited humor are hurt and may even become ill. Perhaps you can clarify the difference between what is funny and what is hurtful. 


Let’s test the laugh-o-meter. Which of these is funny? 

“Hey Bob, why don’t you get that team of geniuses to put their propeller caps on and come up with a solution to this?” 

Yo, Blondie! How about brewing up another pot of that coffee?” 

“Hey, you’re an accountant, right? Why don’t you go count some beans and let the rest of us in the trenches get some real work done. 

If you’re not laughing, you pass the test. Sarcastic, patronizing and condescending comments aren’t funny.  

In fact, comments like these are probably coming out of the same mouths that sneered them in grade school. Like Biff, the bully in the movie Back to the Future, people who treat others like this at work are usually dim witted, insecure or stewing in their own powerlessness. 

Those who resort to this nasty way to one-up someone, or put someone down, are exposing their own flaws.  

One way to turn the barb around, without stooping to throw the spear back, is to use humor. With a twinkle in your eye, “Well, I’m not a natural blonde, Frank, so you’ll just have to make the coffee yourself.” 

Trying to one-up a sarcastic, mean spirited person usually boomerangs. They are simply meaner, so they’ll win the war of words. 

Another response is to restate in neutral words what you think the person is saying. For instance, in the accounting example, “So, you don’t think you need any data on accounts receivable, right now. When you have to do your end of month reports, you know where to find me.” Don’t act offended or over-react emotionally to a jab. In fact, the more calm and professional you look, the less mature they will look. 

If the sarcasm is equally dished out to others as well as to you, the person will probably do him or herself in over time. But if you are the only target of bullying behavior, try to get to the bottom of it.  

If the person just won’t let up, there is a good chance the person has a deep sense of frustration or anger about something you’ve done. Approach the person and try to clear the air, “Look Sam, we don’t have to like each other, but we do have to work together. Do you want to tell me what I’ve done that warrants the sarcasm each week in our staff meeting?” Be prepared to hear some harsh criticism. Listen and try to make amends if you deserve the tongue lashing. But if they offer no rationale, walk away knowing that you did your best to save them from themselves.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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