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My manager sometimes uses sarcasm. I do not know how to react to that.

An example from today:

Him: Did you implement this all alone?

Me: No, I used code found on the internet as a model.

Him: What a genius..

At that moment, I just smiled awkwardly as I didn't know how to react.

How can I professionally handle this kind of remark?

I am new to this company and it is my first job. I do not want to confront him. Ideally, I want him to understand that I do not like that kind of remark (I don't think it's constructive). I wish to have a good working relationship with him.

I have no evidence that he does it with the intent to make me feel the way I do. Might be a cultural difference.

Location: Asia. I am not from the country where I work.

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    Do you know if he speaks like this to your colleagues or if it's just you? – user34587 Nov 1 '18 at 10:01
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    Are you SURE he's trying to be sarcastic? Maybe he's impressed with the initiative of not rebuilding the wheel? – djsmiley2k Nov 1 '18 at 15:33
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    Is there a language barrier? You say you aren't from the country where you work. Could you be misinterpreting? Because a good dev would actually think you were a genius for taking working code online and reusing it. Assuming you actually got it to work – aidan.plenert.macdonald Nov 1 '18 at 16:47
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    I'm I the only one that sees this as a compliment? It all depends on the tone. – the_lotus Nov 1 '18 at 16:55
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    The boss asked if you implemented it all alone. Even if you found code on the Internet, if you are the only one in your company who sought that out, adapted it, put it in place and brought it online, then the answer should have been "yes, I implemented it myself, though I didn't build it all from scratch." – PoloHoleSet Nov 5 '18 at 17:01

13 Answers 13

70

Ignore it and carry on with doing what you're doing.

You can sidetrack some of this by expanding on your comments to show any extra working that you've done on top of copy-pasting code or highlight how much time is saved you.

I found the code online and it saved a lot of time, I'll use the same technique in other things as well.

But don't read too much into comments like this, as long as you're being productive, you should be fine.

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    I like this answer because it's the least confrontational, leaving the manager no room for 'fight back', but still force him to think again about what he said to me. – Astariul Nov 1 '18 at 11:47
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    "Ignore it and carry on with doing what you're doing." Exactly. Don't try to change the behaviour of your manager. Leave it be. – Mast Nov 3 '18 at 18:54
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How can i professionally handle that kind of remark?

Ideally, i want him to understand that i do not like that kind of remark

This is more snark than irony.

When someone tries to be snarky to me, I usually pause, look at them for a while, then turn around and walk away without comment.

Unless they are particularly dense, they understand that I don't like that kind of remark.

And I don't make a habit of working for stupid managers for very long.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Nov 3 '18 at 1:25
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The best way to react to snark/sarcasm is to either ignore it or take it literally, or snark back a tiny bit.

Him: What a genius..

You: I know, but I try to stay humble.

IT is INFAMOUS for snark. Get used to it, the culture isn't going to change. Just let it go, it's part of the job.

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    Taking the comment literally is imho the best answer. No joke is worse than one that needs explaining. He's doing it to try and be funny and show off to others... essentially, he's an office bully. The only way to permanently counter bullies is to punch them in the nose. Aside: I mentioned in an interview once that as part of their test I'd copied and pasted code from the internet.... I got the job; because the ability to research is always useful. – UKMonkey Nov 1 '18 at 17:27
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    @JoeStrazzere we have worked in very different places then. – Richard U Nov 1 '18 at 17:31
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    I had to downvote here because telling people to get used to toxic work environments is almost never the correct answer. At my current workplace, you might find yourself in a meeting with the ethics department if they found out you had that attitude. The first half of the answer was good, but the last paragraph is where the problem lies. – Aaron Nov 1 '18 at 19:16
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    @Aaron I agree that tolerating a toxic environment is a last (don't starve) resort. I don't agree that snark necessarily implies a toxic environment. Can snark be used to cut people down? Absolutely, and this shouldn't be tolerated. Can snark be a legitimate form of non-abusive humor? Absolutely. – Morgen Nov 2 '18 at 14:42
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    @Morgen we used to call it "friendly banter" back in the day. Snark to snark combat was standard and nobody got their knickers in a twist over it. – Richard U Nov 2 '18 at 14:47
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My View and Experience

This very much sounds like it could be a friendly joke/sarcasm. This happens in American workplace's very much, particularly in blue collar workplaces.

I've had multiple bosses that do this, and it's generally lighthearted, and helps foster a sense of camaraderie. For example, in one of my early jobs, we would have many conversations like this:

Manager: Did you do this?

Me: No, that was Jim.

Manager: grins - I knew you couldn't make it look this good!

The Manager gave me a raise soon after, and told me to keep up the good work. Even though his sentence out of context was negative, it was very clearly a good-natured jab. Once I got to know him a bit better, I would throw similar jabs back.

Now that I work in a "white collar" job (Software Engineering), I can say that it certainly happens here, but at a different level. The jokes aren't as harsh, or as negative, but they still happen, and I can very much see your conversation playing out in my workplace - the difference is, I would take it as a joke.

We cannot decipher his tone or intentions via an out of context quote, however, I'd say that most managers are good-ish managers, since they had to be selected to get to that position. Unless you have one of the bad ones out there, it's likely that he meant it in a lighthearted manner. Some managers specifically do it to improve camaraderie in the workplace.

What can you do about this?

Try to view it in a positive light - if you simply can't, and you believe he's truly meaning it in a negative way, speak to a coworker and see if he feels the same way. Speak laterally - to other juniors. Don't have this conversation with someone that could potentially mention your concerns to the manager.

What can you respond with?

This singular phrase (below) is a get out of jail free card, for whenever your boss critiques you for lack of work, using sources, etc. I've used it a few times.

I like to work smarter, not harder!

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As other answers have correctly pointed out, your manager could've shut his mouth (like, nobody copies code from internet...? oh dear).

What I usually apply in those cases is pretend not to get the sarcasm.

Thanks! But I really did nothing special.

If they go on, then you can get confrontational, but it's almost never the case, and your manager certainly doesn't want to spark a discussion he doesn't want to have.

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    This is an excellent answer as it diffuses the abuse without representing insubordination. It's a very professional way to deal with an abusive person who is over you. – bob Nov 1 '18 at 16:41
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Two thoughts:


First you need to give yourself proper credit for what you accomplished.
If all you did was a copy/paste code that someone else pointed out to you, then your answer was fine.

However, I expect you did more than just what you were told to do.

Next time try something like this:

Him: Did you implement this all alone?

You: Yes I did. I started with similar code that I found on site name and adapted it.

Him: different silly remark


Second, to your actual questions...

I am new... it is my first job. I do not want to confront him... I do not like that kind of remark... I wish to have a good working relationship with him.

Give him a slight smile to show that you understand and appreciate the praise/camaraderie. But not a real one that encourages more of those remarks. If you get snarky back you risk having the good working relationship - you already don't relate to him and you don't know how far is too far - watch how others on your team react and reconsider in a couple months (after you have data!)

As stated by others he's likely just trying to connect with you (in his own way). Regard this as harmless unless he is treating you differently than everyone else.

You don't mention the country, but I have worked closely with Chinese & Japanese engineers; I expect it would work with them.

Welcome to the 'real world' (for lack of a better phrase). This is just something to get used to if you want to be able to work with a wide variety of people. If that isn't your desire - don't panic - with a few years experience you'll be in a better position to choose who you work for.

  • A slight smile - yes. I am still a foreigner after 30 odd years here, and people still say things - like snark from the boss - that puzzle me. So if the boss says, Great job, super, when it wasn't really, I just smile vaguely and maybe say Well, thank you. – RedSonja Nov 5 '18 at 9:59
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So long as it's banterous in nature, fight fire with fire...

Him: Did you implement this all alone?

You: No, I used code found on internet as a model.

Him: What a genius..

You: It isn't exactly a bull market for reinventions of the wheel right now.

NB: 'Bull market' is an investing term for when everything is on the up. 'Bear market' is the opposite, where everything is going south.

  • I agree, coming from the UK this just sounds like friendly banter. – Zpalmtree Nov 2 '18 at 4:49
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While the manager's snide remark seems unprofessional, perhaps there is a reason (s)he has an issue with you borrowing ideas from publicly available code released under a possibly incompatible license (or no license whatsoever)?

Your manager could be worried, for instance, that the borrowed code will not be different enough to be clean copyright-wise and cause severe legal problems for the company in the long run.

To clarify these concerns, I would just ask back, "Is there anything wrong with my approach?" (S)he may give another sarcastic remark and tell you to carry on OR (s)he will share their concerns which you both could discuss in a civil manner. At any rate, you will get their perspective on things without risking anything.

Also note that if (s)he is not a native English speaker, the perceived sarcasm may very well have been intended to be a word of encouragement that got twisted in translation.

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    "...perhaps there is a reason (s)he has an issue with you borrowing ideas..." If the manager has an issue with it, he or she should probably say it in more unambiguous terms. However, the "Is there anything wrong with my approach?" answer is a good one for many occasions. – Trilarion Nov 2 '18 at 7:52
  • @Trilarion A good manager certainly should, but a so-so manager may not realize they are being unclear. Also note that the incident took place in Asia where people tend to be more roundabout in expressing their thoughts. At any rate, with so many unknown variables the only reasonable thing in my opinion is to assume no malice and ask for a clarification. – fullerene Nov 2 '18 at 10:07
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You are taking the Manager's comment as an insult and yet you have no idea what the manager's intention or meaning behind the comment was.

When I don't understand what someone was trying to say, I find it quite useful to ask for clarification rather than guess their intent.

In your case..."I don't understand what you are trying to say with that comment. Could you please explain what you meant?".

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    I think this is one of the best approaches, not only if you don't understand what they meant - but especially when you think what they said wasn't appropriate. If it was innocent originally, no harm will be done - if it wasn't, it forces the person to see what they're saying isn't appropriate. – Bilkokuya Nov 2 '18 at 12:22
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I think this was a comment but it should be an answer. Just start taking the comments 100% as if they were serious

Him : What a genius

You : Well thanks man, yeah the smart move is usually to find someone else who has done the drudge work part and adapt it for our needs.

Him : That code is soooooo great...

You : I know. It really fit the design brief, I hope you remember those words when it's time for a pay review (laugh)

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    This seems a bit too confrontational. Don't be this jarring to someone that signs your paychecks! – M28 Nov 1 '18 at 14:55
  • You have to be able to sell that you don't understand it's meant to be sarcastic. – tomdemaine Nov 1 '18 at 14:58
  • This would be an effective approach, but risky. You pretty much have to nail it the first time to make it convincing. It is tit-for-tat, so getting caught out is going to weaken your goal to be treated with respect. – employee-X Nov 5 '18 at 15:31
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I suspect the manager just isn't that adept at conversations and took a bit snarky line because he couldn't think of a better way to follow up on your answer. Would you prefer he just shut his mouth and walked off in silence upon hearing your answer? He probably felt that the conversation requires him to add a remark and he did the only he had on the mind. Not a good one, but I see no malice from him.

Actually, I think you put him in a hard spot with your rebutal. Manager tried to praise you - "Woah, you made this all alone?" - that's an exclamation not a question. You answered in a way that (especially for non-coders) sounds like denial "nah, I just copied a solution". That's a tough one to follow up. What line would you expect from him? Should he have said "Ah, I guess that's kind of OK as well"?

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Him: Did you implement this all alone?

You: No, I used code found on internet as a model.

Him: What a genius..

You: Are you being sarcastic or should I take this as a compliment? Or What do you mean?

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    This seems a little confrontational, perhaps a more indirect approach should be considered. – Digitalsa1nt Nov 2 '18 at 9:03
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Him: Did you implement this all alone?

You: No, I used code found on internet as a model.

Him: What a genius..

You: whatever.. (after a sec) Lets keep moving

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    Could you provide some reasoning for this response? – Matthew Read Nov 1 '18 at 17:03
  • never get confrontational with the man who signs your pay check. never let yourself hurt by someone. even though there was an attempt to ridicule u , being neutral protects you. the good thing is you have done job , which you were capable of, contracts fulfilled , customer happy. Thats what business is allabout. Its irony that one has to work that kind of manager – user94147 Nov 5 '18 at 11:18

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