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Well here we all are, 6 of us at a restaurant. Me and my coworker, call him Chad, are new to the team, both young(in 20s). Our boss looks at Chad and says something like "did you get a haircut?" Then Chad said no, that he just washed and patted it down.

Then, a little unexpectedly, our boss says something like "Did you come to the interview with that goofy hair and unshaven?"

Now, my boss is around 40, and I'm thinking he may be half-testing(or trolling if you know the term). After all, we are both three weeks into the job..

Chad then immediately tells him the famous two-word gutter reply of "F*** you"

Well nobody got hurt thankfully, and the boss played along. But I felt uneasy about it,

I felt like Chad crossed a line there. How casual is too casual?

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Can you give some information about your boss's body language? Sometimes this is a good sign as to whether he is just goofing around or being serious. –  tehnyit Jun 16 '12 at 11:25
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Strange meaning of "in kind"... –  NickC Jun 17 '12 at 5:50
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@scaaahu: My opinion is no different here than it was in the previous question. The boss has the right to take Chad on one side and say "I need you to get your hair cut." As you point out, this was in a public place and in front of everyone. That's very different. But no one is automatically blaming the boss, most of the opinions here rightly point out that context (body-language, tone, etc) is everything, with the boss's comments and Chad's response. –  pdr Jun 17 '12 at 12:14
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I can think of absolutely no situation where at a group lunch telling my boss FU would be acceptable even if we worked together 50 years. Thats not to say that I have not but I was wrong then even if my boss was as well. 2 wrongs do not make a right. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jun 18 '12 at 15:38
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@pdr -- Then I think we agree. Your first comment suggested that people get offended at a word. I'm saying it's not the word, it's the tone, context, and meaning. Yes, sometimes get offended at any use of the F word or others, but that is not what this question is about. –  NickC Jun 19 '12 at 20:58

8 Answers 8

up vote 19 down vote accepted

I think it depends a lot on the body language and also on the culture.


Body Language

For instance the same words "Say. Did you get a haircut" seem radically different if one:

half closes one eye, furrows the brow and 'peers' at the person in question (seriously, try it, while saying those words. See! ).
This carries the implied context of "Hey, you look a bit weird or different, what's up with that?".
This actually sets the tone.
However a mature team leader won't bite and will not be sarcastic back. That demonstrates immaturity.

vs.

a big smiling face, eyes opened extra wide and a chuckling comment "Say, did you get a hair cut" implies more of a "oh, you look good, looks you get got a nice haircut, right?"


Culture

The culture aspect is also very significant. For example, in the UK this kind of banter and sarcastic insulting is extremely commonplace and often a very accepted part of the office culture. Whereas in the US there is far less sarcastic humor in the workplace and people are more conscientious about making comments or remarks that might be misinterpreted without the benefit of humor.

Finally - this mostly just sounds like immaturity and being unprofessional and like folks who have not adjusted from college to a professional workplace (regardless of their age).

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+1 but also the body-language of Chad is important. There are a lot of ways to say any two words, some positively aggressive, some nasty without aggression, some super-defensive and some just plain joking. –  pdr Jun 16 '12 at 17:35
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I believe that word is world-wide. If I were the boss, I'd consider firing Chad. Why? Chad used that word to me and chances are he could use that word to the customers. I can afford to lose an employee, I cannot afford to lose a multi-million dollar value customer. Case closed. –  scaaahu Jun 17 '12 at 10:01
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No word is world-wide. –  Niphra Jun 20 '12 at 14:21
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+1 for culture, I work in Germany and the developers here use the f word more than 10 times a day, even with the boss. I have even seen a few giving the finger to the boss. –  Badger Girl Jun 22 '12 at 15:46
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It allows us to be venomous and bigoted while hiding behind the shield of humour. –  Amicable Jan 3 '13 at 9:41

Your co-worker did not respond in kind, he escalated. Whether he went too far or not is really up to your boss, I would say "probably".

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Assuming this wasn't just banter, I think Chad is communicating to 'the boss' that he won't tolerate open disrespect just because 'the boss' got there before he did.

Possibly Chad has in demand skills and knows he can find a job where he's not publicly disrespected in front of his peers. Or maybe he figures no job is worth putting up with a 'boss' who is clearly an idiot.

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I think Chad showed unprofessionalism to his boss and his customers first, by having goofy hair and unshaven (in OP's words). Later, Chad used that two words to further show his disrespect to his boss. –  scaaahu Jun 17 '12 at 7:05
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@scaaahu - If you're a good worker and do a good job, who cares what your hair looks like. The comment on the other hand, the f*** you, I do agree may be crossing a line, and while I may have very long hair, I don't see myself crossing such a line with those particular words. :) –  jmort253 Jun 17 '12 at 19:42
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@scaaahu - If this company has a grooming code then that should have been explained in the interview and first day on the job. And even if they were so stupid as to have such a code, the time to correct an employee is NOT at lunch in front of his peers. Chad was certainly entitled to respond to the unprofessional behavior of this pointy haired boss. –  Jim In Texas Jun 18 '12 at 15:20

Your coworker Chad was put in a difficult situation, and your boss was out of line, but I think it was a mistake to respond the way he did. Making a mistake here is quite understandable, as he was probably feeling uncomfortable, and had little time to think of an optimal response. However, it would have been better to say something like "If you have a problem with my hair, I feel it would be more appropiate to discuss it privately". The advantage here is the it spells out what the boss is doing wrong, and Chad would be seen as merely asserting his rights.

Though I had to spend some time coming up with my suggested response, and revised it twice. It's not really fair to compare that to Chad being put on the spot. So even though I think he made a mistake, I would cut him some slack.

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I think Chad did cross the line by using the F word in a work environment and especially to his boss.

The Boss should not have addressed the messy hair in a public context but instead should have done so in private if there was an issue with that.

All in all I think they were both unprofessional in their demeanor, but Chad went overboard.

The boss should take him aside later in private and tell Chad that he shouldn't have said what he did about his hair in front of the others and if his hair is an issue let him know. Then he should address Chad's choice of words not being acceptable in the workplace and that both of them should try and do better in the future.

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If you want to know if this is crossing the line for your own career, then I would suggest that using any obscenity to your boss under any circumstances is a career risky move. Most bosses won't tolerate that and you will either be reprimanded or fired. Even if the boss publicly tolerated it at a team dinner, he is probably looking for signs of anger issues in this guy and he is unlikely to get cut any slack in the workplace. His career is probably already in jeopardy.

This is even more true because from your description you are new employees. Those employees have not yet developed a strong relationship with the boss and the company doesn't have much invested in them and they are simply less valuable and thus much easier to make the decision to fire them rather than tolerate someone who can't hold in his anger in a professional environment. The guy with the in-depth knowledge of the applications and the business domain can simply get away with more than the new guy. He probably also has a better idea of what the boss's sense of humor is and how well something like this said in jest would be taken.

Was the boss inappropriate in bringing up the subject publicly? Yes. However, the co-worker who reacted in anger and way past what is appropriate in the workplace was far worse.

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I think your boss was probably annoyed by the looks of Chad, and he just told him that straight in the face without tact. So the boss already set the line so I don't think Chad went to far.

If it was in a other situation where to boss told Chad to clean the table or to do the dishes and he would have replied that way he would have gone to far.

Also is in my opinion a situation where you can act this casual, because the boss created this situation himself. Like I already mentioned it depends on the situation, what response is appropriate.

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Obviously, I am too old to be in the work place now. In some places I used to work at, you get fired if your boss ever heard you saying that two words. –  scaaahu Jun 16 '12 at 13:02

For me he went too far with the four letter word. I have no issue with swearing personally but lots of people do, I tend to look not if a person swears but if they can control that swearing to the appropriate level for the present company.

While the boss might be OK with it, I would suggest that Chad has shown he is not capable of keeping his language to an appropriate level. As mentioned elsewhere, if I were the boss my concern would be that Chad might act in a similar manner with or around customers.

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