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During a recent Zoom team meeting, we were playing a team bonding game where everyone would share a picture of themselves re-creating a favourite movie scene. Everyone was having a good natured laugh.

When my boss shared a picture of her heavily bearded husband (instead of herself), I joked "is that you with a beard and fake nose? Nice effects make up!" I'm normally quiet and a bit awkward, never offensive, but I don't know what came over me - I just outright insulted my boss's appearance and their husband whom I don't know.

My boss is usually casual and loves a laugh, but I only just joined the team and we're not close. The conversation sort of moved on and no one reacted to my poor attempt at a joke. Needless to say, I am completely mortified and feel like I have offended her in front of the whole team.

I am socially anxious and use humour to deflect my nervousness in social situations. How do I apologise without making it worse? Do I apologise or should I let it be? Any advice appreciated, thank you.

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    that doesn't sound offensive to me.. i think you're overthinking it
    – k--
    Aug 6 at 12:06
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    By "no one reacted" do you just mean that no one laughed or was there an actual pause in the conversation? Is that what you mean by the conversation "sort of" moving on? It's unclear to me whether you're saying there was actual discomfort from your coworkers or whether they just didn't think it was funny (or maybe couldn't tell it was a joke) and you're worried that it means they were offended.
    – BSMP
    Aug 6 at 17:23
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It was team-bonding game so I wouldn't take it so serious. Since there was no immediate negative reaction by your boss or the others they most likely didn't take it that serious either.

You could just let it go and hope that no-one makes a big deal out of it, including your boss, or you could be just as honest as in your question and have a private meeting with your boss telling her somewehre along the lines of:

"Hey [Enter name here]! In regards to that team-bonding game - I am sometimes socially anxious and use humour to deflect my nervousness in social situations. I apologize for my poor joke!"

If you haven't noticed any changes in her behaviour or attitude towards you and since you your boss is usually casual and loves a laugh, I would just let it go - but that's just my opinion.

If you feel the personal sentiment that you really want to apologize and that an apology would make you feel better, then do it in a sincere way in a private 1on1 with your boss.

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    I'd skip the "if", there. It has shades of politician not-apologies. If you're going to go for the apology, it's better to just outright "I apologize for my poor joke", and don't include the "if I insulted you" thing at all.
    – Ben Barden
    Aug 6 at 18:39
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    I'd leave out not only the "if" but the "hope that this incident..." clause. Don't give a wishy-washy apology. If anything, apologizing for something that upon reflection you believe may have been inappropriate puts you in a better light. In much the same way as a person who says, "yes, I realize I caused this problem ..." gives those around them a hint that the person speaking is not INTENTIONALLY irresponsible or unthoughtful. Aug 6 at 20:43
  • @BenBarden Good point - it does have some flakey flavour to it, I'll edit the answer accordingly..
    – iLuvLogix
    Aug 7 at 10:41
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Don't worry about it too much and just move on from here. Do what you can to pick up on how the team interacts in informal times and try to blend in.

I don't think there's any need for an apology, doing so just brings attention to yourself and you don't want to get yourself in a position where you feel like you have to apologise for every situation where you feel you've got something wrong.

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    I wholeheartedly agree, however in case that OP identifies his behavior as “socially anxious” or the like, he might want to get closure by apologizing in case that (…) and explicitly be told that his comment was not badly taken.
    – michi
    Aug 6 at 11:35
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    @michi "Do I apologise or should I let it be? Any advice appreciated" I basically answered "No" to that.
    – Snow
    Aug 6 at 13:06
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    I think it matters how stressed someone is about the possible faux pas when deciding whether or not they should apologize. Most of my apologies are as much for my benefit as for the person I'm apologizing to. I don't think it needs to involve the entire team, but sometimes a quick "I was thinking about that dumb joke I made, and I'm sorry if it came across as insulting. I didn't mean it that way." is a good way to resolve a situation that might be all in one's head, or might not and the not knowing is causing a lot of stress.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 6 at 19:41
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A few currently missing insights: Even if it was a team-bonding exercise, it is still very possible for people to get offended by something someone else says or does. In many cases, even when someone does not react externally, they may have reacted internally. One simple explanation is that people sometimes feel a reaction is unwarranted. For example, even if your joke annoyed your boss, your boss may have thought it was best to not react negatively so that it doesn't seem like she can't take a joke. In a Zoom meeting, it can be hard to identify subtle negative reactions.

What we don't really know is how this joke really affected your boss. What is very clear is how this joke affected you! I agree: Find a time to talk one-on-one with your boss, be sincere, and apologize. Assuming your boss is a mature person, she will appreciate your courage for approaching her, your concern for her feelings, and sympathize with your awkwardness.

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    When I'm worried that I upset someone I have a relationship with (a family member, friend, coworker etc.) because I did or said something dumb, I go talk to them and make sure they know that if I did upset them, I didn't intend to and I'm sorry I did. It almost always results in resolving the issue that's causing me stress and strengthening my relationship with that person. It's a lot easier for me to apologize for something that may or may not have offended someone else, than for that person to confront me to tell me they were offended.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 6 at 19:30
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    @ColleenV I agree. It is a lot easier to take the initiative in these situations. There are so many factors that prevent others from letting us know if we did or said something wrong... Aug 6 at 19:58
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    I second "how this joke affected you!". There's no need to say "if it offended you", or explain why you thought they were offended, which opens a whole area. You can say (truthfully) you're apologizing because it's been bothering you that you said that. Aug 6 at 22:27
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It sounds like you didn't get any responses because that comment sounded more socially awkward than offensive. It's very likely that nobody at all remembers it except that you made an attempt at some very safe humor that didn't land. The least generous term I think I could see used for this is 'cringe'. Certainly not offensive. If you're specifically worried about getting in trouble I don't see this ever going to that level but if you're also/more worried about your professional image, then apologizing will likely make you look undersocialized.

I highly recommend you just leave it alone.

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While what you said may be a bit of unusual shocking, I don't see it as offensive, and you did not say whether your boss felt she was offended

Unless you see signs showing her discomfort afterwards, I would leave it be and let this incident go

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    Kudos to @Benchurch for even posting this. It says to me he has thought about his actions and thinks he may have un-intentionally created an offense. The only way to destroy the possibility that it was INTENTIONAL harm is to say plainly that it was wrong and NOT as intended. We all put our "foot in our mouths" from time to time. An apology makes it clear it was not intended to be harmful, and better, that the speaker is sensitive enough to recognize his mistakes. I once saw my boss curse out an employee for doing something dangerous. I was VERY impressed when the boss immediately apologized. Aug 6 at 20:56

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