I'm new to the company, Oct 2018, and I'm just now getting back into the technology field after being a classroom teacher for the last 10 years. I left education because of the lack of money, and I've landed a really good gig now - and I really enjoy it.

As I've been progressing in my assignments and accomplishments, my boss has become more and more enthusiastic in his approvals. He has started "patting" my back, which is more like hitting me. I must get slapped upside the shoulder 4-7 times a day now...and they seem to be getting harder.

I really like my boss, he's extremely talented and brilliant in his field. He's taught me so much and I'm continuing to learn every day. I don't want to hinder/hurt the boss/employee relationship that we currently have.

I'm a big guy, and these "pats" don't necessarily hurt, it's more of an annoyance . We're a small company (around 50ish employees) and no real HR, more like a family atmosphere.

I would like to know the best way to handle approaching my boss? Do I say something? Should I block him, and throat-punch him back? (kidding) How can I tactfully handle this situation without hurting the job relationship and my great opportunity at this company? Do I say anything at all?

UPDATE - So today my boss swung by my desk, "How's it going?" To which I replied by showing him my work and code. "Good job!" he said with 2 hard 'pats.'

I tried the "OW!" response. To which he looked at me, said "Oh, come on" and then did it again. Clearly that didn't work...

EDIT - As to why this question is different than "My boss slapped me over a calculation error" - My boss isn’t hitting me, I’ve made no errors, and I’m not looking to complain about it. My question revolves around an overly excitable boss who pats my back too hard when he likes my work, and how to politely, tactfully, mention it to him, or to see if another resolution exists.

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    Possible duplicate of My boss slapped me over a calculation error
    – Jim G.
    Feb 23, 2019 at 5:39
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    @JimG Very different question. My boss isn’t hitting me, I’ve made no errors, and I’m not looking to complain about it. My question revolves around an overly excitable boss who pays my back too hard when he likes my work, and how to politely, tactfully, mention it to him, or to see if another resolution exists.
    – MacItaly
    Feb 23, 2019 at 13:45
  • Would "Ow, please don't" be an option? Feb 25, 2019 at 15:47
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    Just tell a white lie and say that you're somehow injured so he can keep doing it but softer
    – user86742
    Feb 25, 2019 at 17:34
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    I think the way Chandler Bing deals with it isn't bad at all. youtube.com/watch?v=jh1mlI_zJJw
    – xiaomy
    Mar 1, 2019 at 16:13

7 Answers 7


Based on your edit, it sounds like your boss fits a fairly classic "Dad Trope" persona of being encouraging but somewhat goofy and stuck in his ways.

For defusing situations that you feel are serious with this type of personality when you also want to be careful not to offend them, I highly recommend using humor as much as possible. By choosing this route you signal to them that you're willing to play ball with them and aren't pointing any fingers or intentionally trying to say that you're offended.

Boss: slaps your back too hard
You: Oof, are you getting stronger? Haha, that one really hurt! Could ya try to hold back for my sake in the future? We can't all be as tough as you ya know Boss...
Boss: Oh you! I'm sure it's not that bad!
You: Well you know I love working here enough that you could beat me over the head but I'd still rather you didn't! (With a joking tone)

Can continue with these sorts of hints as long as necessary. If it goes a week without alleviating the issue, the next step in the game is to have the "serious talk". Use the tone of voice you might use when concerned for somebody else. Talk to him about this on a day he hasn't slapped your shoulder.

Stick to the facts. If humor doesn't work, you go to the polar opposite end of the spectrum and use "please" and "I feel" statements to emphasize that it means a lot to you, and so does your professional relationship with him. Feel free to emphasize that you respect him.

Combining these two approaches as necessary has worked for me in the past when dealing with my own father in professional situations, as well as supervisors in my old jobs. Most of the time they'll pick up on it during the humor phase, but sometimes the serious phase is necessary. Best of luck!


How can I tactfully handle this situation without hurting the job relationship and my great opportunity at this company? Do I say anything at all?

I was in a similar situation with my manager who's a smaller guy than me. He liked to pat me and other people on the team hard on the back. The pats were too hard and I don't like it when a coworker touches me.

Both of us being relatively new to our position, he being a new manager and I being new to the company, I took a more indirect approach. When he hit me too hard, I say audibly "Ow!" We'd continue the conversation, but the "Ow!" was noticeably awkward to where after a few times he completely stopped patting me on the back. Our work relationship is still really great.

I'd recommend you give that "Ow!" a shot. The potential downside is that he might take it as a challenge to hit you harder, but, as a manager, it's not professional to do so!

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    "I don't like it when a coworker touches me" - Same here. My response is usually "sorry, I don't do that, and I don't like it when people do it to me". I say it in private, and it's always sorted the problem so far.
    – PeteCon
    Feb 22, 2019 at 1:50
  • But this is dissembling. And the OP has no "touching trouble" - it's just a bit silly. (I believe that is the OP's interpretation.)
    – Fattie
    Feb 22, 2019 at 3:08
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    Never underestimate the Napoleon complex Feb 22, 2019 at 7:57

Now that you’ve tried to passively address this by saying “Ow” and didn’t get the results you wanted, I recommend you address this directly.

The next time you get an opportunity to speak with him in private you should approach him and say something along the lines of “Bob, I know the pats on the back are good natured and I appreciate the sentiment, but they’re really uncomfortable for me. Can you try and just not pat me on the back?”

Being open and honest and to the point is the best way to deal with this. I had a coworker who would tap me on the shoulder to get my attention while I had headphones on and it irritated me to no end. Once after he tapped me on the shoulder, I took my headphones off and said “Greg, can you please stop doing that? It really bothers me.” and he obviously felt bad and apologized and I quickly explained it wasn’t a nig deal and not worth feeling bad about. The behavior stopped that day.

  • Still too passive IMHO. Be very direct. "The way you are touching me makes me uncomfortable. Stop doing it." No "wiggle room", no "please try to not do that" - a very clear "stop doing that, now." If he persists, you've now make a very clear assertion that the contact is unwanted and you can escalate if necessary.
    – alroc
    Feb 23, 2019 at 0:00

Just communicate this in private with your boss. Sounds like he is reasonable and trying to be a good boss, so should hopefully respect the fact that you said something and also that you did it in private. May i suggest ending the conversation with a joke or something else you both can share a laugh about so that he knows the positive relationship he has been trying to foster is still there.


My situation was slightly different.

When I get stuck with some code, my boss has a habit of making rounds just to see how I am faring. Sometimes he just observes my code to give some input.

When I am being productive I don't mind him staring at my computer screen for hours. But when I am not I get nervous.

What did I do?

I simply told him that I get nervous when he is around on my unproductive days. I will ask for help if needed.

Boss's reaction?

He smiled and walked off.

Side effects on our relationship? It should suffice to say none.

I made two things clear:

1) Will ask help when needed.

2) He does not has to worry about me and can concentrate on his own work.

I think communication is the key. Either by words or actions. Let people know they are causing you discomfort and how can it be resolved.

How would they know unless you communicate? They are not mind-readers.


You have tried the OW-approach and you got this:

I tried the "OW!" response. To which he looked at me, said "Oh, come on" and then did it again.

You might do just the opposite: when you pass by him, you slap him on the shoulder (and don't be shy, he does it too, so he should be able to bear with it).

It's important to understand that some people are trying out their employees/coworkers, just to see how far they can go, and by setting boundaries, you enforce respect.

If he has a problem with you slapping him on the shoulder, you can say "How so? You're doing it too, aren't you?".

Good luck


Some people would suck it up, I would find it unacceptable. I recommend you get up from your chair and say "I've had enough of this. Don't do that ever again. "

Doesn't matter if he's the boss, nobody does that to me. And what OP said, that when he complained, the boss just did it again - there are two choices. One is calling 911 in the USA and reporting an assault. The other involves self defence.

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    -1 This is overly hostile. Like I mentioned in the original post, the pats don't hurt, they're more of an annoyance. I will not be calling 911, nor will I be reporting an assault.
    – MacItaly
    Feb 22, 2019 at 23:34
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    @MacItaly whether it's painful or not, it's unwanted physical contact and OP wants it to stop. It could technically be construed as battery. If OP doesn't want it to happen, he needs to speak up, be assertive, and tell his boss in no uncertain terms that it needs to stop. If it doesn't stop after that, you escalate to HR, as OP now feels unsafe in the workplace.
    – alroc
    Feb 23, 2019 at 0:03
  • @alroc I am OP, and as I said in the OP, it’s more of an annoyance. I also offer the solution of “just dealing with it.” I also never said I feel unsafe in the workplace. Did you even read the OP?
    – MacItaly
    Feb 23, 2019 at 13:42
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    You can also have a tattoo "mug" over your forehead. "Dealing with it" in my book means actions to make sure it doesn't happen again. Anything else isn't "dealing".
    – gnasher729
    Feb 23, 2019 at 16:40
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    @MacItaly you've admitted here that you don't like the physical contact. Why are you not standing up for yourself and saying, in no uncertain terms "you must stop this" to your boss? Clearly this bothers you enough to ask the internet what to do about it, it's time for you to take definitive action.
    – alroc
    Feb 23, 2019 at 17:40

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