123

I am located in the north of Germany. We had an event where the whole company got together, about 200 people. We had dinner, a live band, all in all it was a great evening. My small department (about 15 people) rented a small bus so we could go to this event together.

When we drove home, my place was the closest so they dropped me off first. In front of our house we see this person peeing in the shadow. Illuminated by the car's headlights I recognize the person. It was my son (27, he still has a key and visits on weekends). You could clearly see that he was drunk, as he could barely stand up and walk straight. All of the people in the bus started laughing. To make things worse, he recognized me and called me, making sure everyone realized it was my son. I was absolutely mortified.

It was literally a few feet away from our house, he could have just gone in and taken a piss inside where it's warm instead of watering the plants in the middle of winter for crying out loud.

Now, I'm scared to go to work on Monday because I'm sure the whole company is going to know about it by then (the only thing my department does outside of work is gossip).

I'm scared of all the patronizing smiles undermining the little bit of authority I have in this company (managing this small team).

I don't know what to do. How should I react when someone brings it up during work or in the breaks? How should I react to jokes about that? I know I can't undo what has been done, and I know actively trying to silence this is only going to lead to a Streisand-effect, but I don't want it to affect my workplace.

Leaving the company is not an option for me because of various reasons I cannot and don't want to go into, so please don't ask about it and please don't tell me to just "brush up my résumé".


Edit 1: Regarding responding with humor, I agree with Mike's comment:

Forcing herself to joke about something that clearly bothers her could easily backfire. What if one of the people that doesn't like her responds with a better and meaner joke? Will she always have a good one to come back with? A little too risky, in my opinion.

And Fattie's:

NEVER, EVER "answer with humour". It comes across as incredibly fake, nervous and weak. Nothing is more humiliating than "trying to make a joke".

I don't really want to answer with humor in this case, as it would most probably look like I'm trying too hard and it would still be visible that it bothers me.

  • 20
    So, how did things go? – Alexandre Aubrey Jan 28 at 19:32
  • 1
    What country did this happen in? What kind of company do you work in? The U.S.? Or a similar Western country? In general I doubt anyone cares. I am in the U.S. and would genuinely joke about it by saying, “He’s been like this since he was a kid… Just getting drunk at odd times!!! Hahahah!” – JakeGould Jan 29 at 23:02
  • 1
    @JakeGould This happened in the north of Germany. – Mom344 Jan 30 at 20:32
  • I have been in similar situations and I think two things. First, I don't think people are going to care as much as you think they will. Second, I say you should take it head first. You were and are embarrassed by it so just say that. Someone mentions it: "I know that was so embarrassing I can't believe that happened. The timing couldn't have been better" Then move on. – Sam Orozco Feb 5 at 7:34
258

To literally answer your question:

"How should I react when someone brings it up during work or in the breaks? How should I react to jokes about that?"

Do exactly this:

Roll your eyes and say, "How embarrassing!"

Say and do nothing else, whatsoever.

If (incredibly) someone brings it up more than once, just absolutely repeat the same thing: roll your eyes and say, "How embarrassing!

Say and do nothing else whatsoever.

It is a non-issue. Nobody cares and it will be forgotten about by Noon, even if someone does happen to mention it.

That is precisely what you should do and say if, surprisingly, anyone even mentions it.

150

I think you are attaching too much importance to this, insignificant, event.

They probably will gossip a bit. They tell this story as what it is - a funny story to have a laugh about. You can't avoid it. Then they will forget.

If they have been working with you for more than a few days, I can't imagine they could start behaving differently towards you just because of this incident.

The more attention you will be devoting to it, the higher the probability people will add a second episode to the story ("Mom344 has been mortified and behaving super strangely as a result"). Just smile with the people, in one week nobody will remember. The best answer is humor. Tell them you brought up your son very well - he doesn't pee on your house.

  • 8
    Thank you for your answer, I'll try that. There are some people in the company however who are not particularly fond of me and they'll almost certainly try to turn this into some kind of "she can't even raise her son not to piss outside"-situation. – Mom344 Jan 26 at 13:24
  • I totally agree that the OP should not be blamed for having such a no-good son. There is only so much you can do when raising children. However, it would not be untoward for her to seize the opportunity to let the son know he's crossed a line. Taking away his key, for instance, and telling him he can't come and visit when drunk. That will make him mad certainly, for a while, but it might help him take a step toward the adult responsibility he should be displaying already. You can't raise him again, but you can enforce some standards now.. – George M Jan 29 at 0:04
70

Don't dwell on it. Admit to feeling embarrassed and move on. Your colleagues will respect you the same or more than before.

Their laughter was likely because the level of embarrassment was trivial enough to make it legitimately funny in the moment. Most colleagues would not laugh at an event that seriously jeopardized your character or authority.

Remember, your son peed on a fence. You didn't. And even if it was you, that wouldn't be the end of the world at most companies. Your colleagues found it funny, because it was funny. Most people with children (of any age) have felt embarassed by them at some point, and chances are at least one of your colleagues has peed in a bush at least once or twice. It's an empathetic scenario.

How do you respond? I like Fattie's answer. Admit your feelings of exasperation at your son and then move on:

"So embarrassing!"

or

"I was mortified."

But here's where I'd like to take a moment and say that, if it were me, I'd welcome small embarassing events like this on occasion. Some of the best leaders I've worked with use moments like this to build rapport. Exposing slight vulnerabilities increases the comfort level between yourself and others. It's humanizing.

If you're a storyteller, you can spin a yarn for colleagues that you feel close enough with to have a laugh. Here's an edit on your story. Imagine yourself in a casual setting with a colleague who was there and one that wasn't, both individuals you're somewhat comfortable with:

"We had an event where the whole company got together - EVERYONE! About 200 people! We had dinner, a live band... the works. My department had rented a small bus, alright? I was the first stop on the way back. And when we pull up to my house, and there's a figure peeing in the shadow. Disconcerting, right? Well, illuminated by the car's headlights, I recognize him. It was my son. Yep. My 27 year old son. Drunk and stumbling about. My color blanched! I mean, what the hell Son344! This was so embarassing! All of the people in the bus started laughing. But here's the icing on the cake: he started calling out to me! He made sure every last person on the bus realized it was my son! It was awful! I was absolutely mortified!"

The point is: you don't dodge trivialities. Either admit embarrassment and move on or own it completely. Recognize that the event was funny because it was trivial. You share a somewhat vulnerable story that couldn't damage your career anyway and gain rapport. In the end, you and your colleagues are human, and the workplace moves on.

  • 10
    I like this answer because it's being completely honest. Ideally, such honesty isn't looked down on or ridiculed, but gains you respect as someone who doesn't shy away from problems but admits them and works through them. No workplace is ideal, of course, but you might find honesty is the best policy, and doesn't lose you any authority. – gidds Jan 27 at 18:01
  • I upvoted this because it recognizes the co-workers' laughter as being an awkward, embarrassed, response to the incident. Everybody was embarrassed. A little bit. For a couple of minutes. – O. Jones Jan 28 at 16:43
  • 1
    To restate the best observation in this thread, what zahbaz says about how you handle vulnerability, how you build rapport, that's the opportunity to be found in this mess. – fearofmusic Jan 29 at 16:49
22

Don't worry. 90% of your colleagues fall into two categories: Those who have kids, and those who will have kids. What they have all in common: They are relieved that it was your son and not theirs.

It's really no problem. I can tell you what a real problem is (happened to a friend of mine when he was 17). He came to school one morning, gathered all his friends, and told them "I'd rather tell you now before you read it in the newspaper, but my brother has just been arrested for murder". So you just go to work, and if anyone makes comments, you ask them if they have kids, and whether they have never, ever done anything embarrassing.

19

I wouldn't worry too much about it. To be honest, I don't think it reflects too badly on you personally, and it says nothing about who you are professionally. As a member of your team, I certainly wouldn't judge you for it. Sure, there are always going to be people that do, but that is out of your control.

Your best course of action would be to go to work and act like nothing ever happened. Don't bring it up yourself, and continue to manage your team the way you always have. If someone else brings it up, acknowledge that it happened but entertain the conversation as little as possible in a polite yet firm way. Continue to be professional, and make it clear that the personal shortcomings of your family are not what you are interested in discussing at work. You should appear as if their mention of the event did not faze you in the slightest. This will make them look and feel foolish for bringing it up and make you look like a professional person that should be respected.

With that being said, you should definitely talk to your son about it!

5

As long as the jokes are in good taste and don't cross the line, I'd just roll with it. If they do cross the line, I'd approach the person with a witness and ask them if there is anything they need to discuss with me. Afterwards, I would firmly state that I will not tolerate the humiliation of myself, my family, or fellow colleagues at the workplace and that if it occurs again I will formally escalate the situation through the proper channels.

Never be afraid to stand up for yourself or people you care about, even at work. They aren't very good colleagues if all they can do is poke fun at you and not recognize that it is embarrassing and upsets you.

  • 1
    This is a great answer: there are excellent other answers here, but they all assume the coworkers are basically reasonable, emotionally mature people. Whilst this is a good assumption to begin with, the OP also needs to have all bases covered. – WetSavannaAnimal Jan 27 at 22:53
2

It might help to analyze why the people in this story are responding the way that they do.

First, your son. Obviously, he wasn't behaving in a way you'd expect a responsible 27-years old to behave. Then again, if he had known he would be embarrassing his mom in front of her colleagues, I'm pretty sure he would have taken a different course of action. So it was an unfortunate coincidence.

Second, your colleagues. You showed them a glimpse of your home life (which I'm pretty sure some of them would hesitate to do) and the first thing they notice is your own son pissing all over it. A perfect example of situational irony. Those who laughed recognized the situation for what it was: an extremely unlikely, highly ironic coincidence, not to be taken seriously. A colleague who would hold this against you wouldn't have laughed.

Finally, your own response. How embarrassed are you of something your 27-year old son did, and why does it embarrass you so much? Obviously, anyone in your position would have been embarrassed at the moment it happened; that's what makes it funny. But their laughter was meant to defuse that. As others have said, acknowledge your embarrassment at that time, but don't assume your colleagues were laughing at you, or are still laughing at you - it was the situation that made them laugh.

-4

While most responses at work will probably not be troublesome, I recommend batting down the more problematic ones directly and politely.

"You mind your business. I will certainly be minding mine."

Sometimes, people need a gentle reminder about boundaries. Own yours -- it's your right, and in the workplace, a responsibility. You have a job to do.
Any humor for your co-workers will have to wait.


Edit: I have used this sort of approach myself at times. In response to the comments, I am clarifying this answer to make my point of view and approach clear.

You don't have to be a jerk in order to say things that another person might not want to hear. I shouldn't have to add that these words should probably not be snarled, snapped or growled. There's nothing "rude" (see comments) about being clear -- to the contrary, it is a courtesy, much appreciated by grown-ups, particularly in the workplace.

  • 8
    This is probably about the worst way you could handle the situation. Being rude to people is not "owning it". – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 28 at 13:32
  • 4
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit why would saying this be rude? Surely whoever is making a joke at OP's expense is already guilty of being rude themselves; they shouldn't be shocked if their joke backfires with a response like this. – CactusCake Jan 28 at 15:17
  • 4
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit I just don't see how "mind your business" is a rude statement. If somebody said that to me I wouldn't think they were being rude, I would assume that whatever I said that prompted this response obviously touched a nerve. Some people are more sensitive than others. While hearing this might make the recipient uncomfortable, it's probably not as uncomfortable as the person who said it is feeling. – CactusCake Jan 28 at 15:27
  • 4
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit just because it isn't friendly doesn't make it rude. It's just matter of fact. Anyway, why should anyone have to be friendly towards someone who is making fun of them? – CactusCake Jan 28 at 16:21
  • 3
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit, I respectfully submit that your comment does not improve the answer and does not seek clarification. This is Workplace, not Friendliness. Boundaries matter, and reminders about boundaries are when necessary the right answer. Note that this advice is limited to the "more problematic cases", in which "friendliness" has already gone out the window, tossed by a busybody who forgot that the workplace is not for gossip and not for entertainment. For the characterization of the answer, I'll head on over to chat. – Haakon Dahl Jan 28 at 23:05

protected by Community Jan 27 at 0:13

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.