I'm a team leader for a group of people including trainees. Recently, I had a chat with a colleague from another department and he made some jokes about the trainee from my team. The joke is not that rude to escalate to the senior manager as it can be read in many different ways but given his smileys and the way he structured sentences clearly tells me that he is making a fun, also he is known for making fun of others.

I want to take this up with him during the next week and I need to find a way to correctly approach this situation. I want to start by clarifying the statements he made and his intentions, but I clearly miss vocabulary here and need some hints how to structure a conversation and give him implicit understanding that it is not fine to make fun of my teammate.

How would you handle this situation properly?

  • he asked "so this lady is going to this type job while you are on leave :-)?" out of the blue. I did not mention this lady during our talk and both of us know that she is not qualified to do this job, so he made a fun of her or myself with this joke, but I want to prevent all jokes like this. – Mark Jul 29 '18 at 5:50
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    Sorry, I don't understand. Did he say "so this lady [your trainee] is going to do this type of job while you are on leave :-)?". Why was it offensive? – BigMadAndy Jul 29 '18 at 5:52

By not engaging with the joke. If it's the first time with you, then there's a chance he'll learn cracking jokes about employees is not OK to you. If people aren't laughing, or he's getting things like a quick "not OK" look or a "..."/"not cool" response in chat, then to most, that's a clear indication that the comments were not appreciated.

If it persists, or you can't wait that long, I'd arrange a private meeting to tell him "not OK". I wouldn't necessarily tell him to outright stop, but explain how it makes you feel uncomfortable and you're not OK sharing in that kind of banter. For some people, this kind of thing is OK, so telling him how he shouldn't do it at all may come off as you pushing your own beliefs on him (and being overly PC). And hopefully he'll more sensitive to not sharing those kind of jokes with people who don't want to partake.

I'm in the UK, so people making fun of each other is normal. But it's known by most people where the line is drawn, however nearly everyone accidentally crosses it at some point. I once did by saying a negative comment to one guy I didn't know was related to the guy I was commenting about. He told me "not OK", so I made a mental note. Awhile later, things got back to normal, as I knew not to cross the line (and he realised I wasn't being mean).

  • I think the only way to make sure that someone knows that a comment is not appropriate is to tell them directly that it's not appropriate. Most people can't read minds, and most of them are not very adept at reading body language. I also think it's a little mean to let someone persist in doing something that bothers you hoping that they will figure out it bothers you, especially if you think they're not doing it intentionally. – ColleenV Jul 30 '18 at 11:36

How would you handle this situation properly?

Do nothing unless it happens again, in which case tell him then and there that it's out of line.

Currently you have nothing much to complain about, nothing that warrants you confronting a person from another department over which you have no control about a joke he made a week ago.

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    We could just jump him and take it out in the parking lot right @kilisi? – Isaiah3015 Jul 31 '18 at 19:49
  • @Isaiah3015 na he's got a mean left hook. – Kilisi Jul 31 '18 at 21:53

You don't need any special vocabulary, yours is perfectly fine:

it is not fine to make fun of my teammate.

It is often enough. I used it from time to time and I can confirm that it works.


A good tested answer is pretend you don't understand, so ask with a completely honest face

"why would you say that?"

and continue in this vane, so to answer the constant response of "I was only joking"

"why is that funny?"

This is used by many women in the face of sexist "banter" getting someone to explain a joke is really uncomfortable and really discourages repeat performances.


An alternative answer is to go along with it instead of reprimanding it.

However, this heavily depends on company culture, the specific joke itself, etc (information we don't have from the question).

In every company I worked at so far the environment was very cool, and we always joked about and with juniors, pairs and even seniors. In my opinion it helps the team bond way more than a strict management and environment as you feel you can be comfortable around your teammates (and the team leader is a teammate) which in turn leads to smoother teamwork.

Again, and just to reiterate, this obviously depends on your specific context, and it doesn't mean that the office has to turn into a playground.

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