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We went to a team dinner where alcoholic beverages were served. However, I am someone who doesn't drink alcohol due to my personal beliefs. Since people around were constantly making fun of me, I thought it is okay to have once (because I don't have any religious reasons) and moreover, it is a social occasion. So, I agreed to have one cider.

However, one colleague was constantly making fun of me and my drinking style. Obviously, it was the 1st time I had an alcoholic drink and I was drinking like one sip at a time (unlike veterans who take a gulp and get it over with). The problem is, a colleague looking at my drinking style and the pace at which I was drinking said,

"I hate to say this. But don't be a pu##y. Stop being a pu##y".

This really made me uncomfortable in public and I was shocked to hear such a thing. How can I tell him politely that I didn't like his usage of words (even though it is for fun) and he should not make fun of/rag on someone for their beliefs? He should be mindful of the words he uses to a colleague he barely knows.

Can somebody help me with an appropriate response? Do you think I should let this go? (But I genuinely don't wish to let this go.)

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 9:12

13 Answers 13

127

What was said to you was completely inappropriate and unprofessional. It doesn't matter if it was "for fun" or not, it shouldn't have been said.

In my opinion, you would have been well within your rights to say "Please don't talk to me like that. How I drink is none of your business" and I hope any colleagues with you would have supported you.

I appreciate this may not have de-escalated the situation in the short term.

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    "I appreciate this may not have de-escalated the situation in the short term." - yeah, that coworker surely was drunk, most likely nothing said in that moment would have had a positive impact on them.
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 19:50
  • 100
    The "completely inappropriate and unprofessional" started when they bullied OP into ordering a drink in the first place. If OP doesn't want to, or can't, drink alcohol for whatever reason, they should be allowed to not drink alcohol. If team building requires you to drink alcohol against your will/beliefs, that's bordering on hazing.
    – shoover
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 0:28
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    Good answer. may I suggest to first ask something like "Why does the way I drink alcohol matter to you ?"
    – Oddrigue
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 8:45
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    Personally, I wouldn't have said "Please". And I would've thrown in a couple of other choice words as well. But sadly I can't in good conscience recommend this as an answer.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 13:23
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    @RobbieGoodwin professionalism is expected (and I would argue required) at all work/work adjacent functions in which team members are invited to be present in some way shape or form. While not "on the clock" or "at work" it's still an interaction with your coworkers, which will spill over into the workplace if something negative happens.
    – GOATNine
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 14:14
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This colleague was totally unprofessional and in the wrong - this isn't really disputable. So, my question is what do you want to have happen?

Do you want to reinforce professional boundaries with your colleague so they don't do it again (preventative)?

Do you want to advocate for your personal dignity by explaining that the behavior was offensive and unappreciated (defensive)?

Do you want to punish your colleague because it violated a moral code you subscribe to (punitive)?

Or even all three? All three reasons have legitimacy. What the fully conscious person does is weigh the potential outcomes both to you and your colleague, and make a rational choice based on your personal values.

For example, if you simply wish to re-affirm your personal dignity and insure the colleague does not repeat the behavior (but have no particular desire to punish them), the logical course of action would be a private conversation along the lines of: "I was made to feel uncomfortable when you said 'Don't be a p***y', and I would feel better if I knew that it was a one-time occurrence. Do you think we can agree on that?"

If your intent is to punish, then by all means report it up the chain and/or to HR. Just be fully aware of the harm that will come to this person (career setbacks, HR investigations, etc.) will be unpleasant for them - even though they absolutely deserve it. Perhaps one could make an argument that such punishments will act as a deterrent that improves everyone's behavior?

No one can answer these questions but you.

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  • Thanks for your suggestions. I don't wish to take the punitive route. Will follow the preventative route
    – The Great
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 6:41
  • After reading some other answers, I'd like to add an additional suggestion: Just let it go. Making it a "thing" might end up just adding fuel to the fire, so to speak. In the long run the man showed everyone he's less than a professional, so in some ways he punished himself? It's a tough call. Good luck.
    – Kyle Pena
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 19:48
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Much of humor can be seen as a form of countersignaling. The message of kidding around with someone is “I'm so secure in our relationship that I feel comfortable engaging in humorous mocking”. In this interpretation, your colleague's behavior could have been premised on the idea of “It's so absurd to mock someone for how they drink a beverage that it would be humorous for me to engage in such mockery ironically”. On the other hand, he may have meant it unironically.

If he meant it unironically, then there's no way to politely discuss it with him. He was mocking you for behaving in a manner socially coded as feminine, and complaining about how one is treated is also socially coded as feminine, so doing so will simply exacerbate the mockery. Furthermore, his actions send a message as to what conduct is appropriate for the company culture, so it's not simply a personal matter between the two of you. He was implicitly asserting that his social norms are superior to yours, and for you to complain to him about his actions will simply be seen as you asserting your social norms, which he has no reason to prioritize over his own. There's not much you can do about it other than pursue HR options and have the management decide what they want their company culture to be. You, as a coworker, can't say anything to him other than the subjective statement of “My personal opinion is that your behavior is unacceptable”, but the company has the option (but you have to be prepared that, depending on the management, they may not proceed this way) of presenting him with the very objective fact that his employment is contingent on not creating a hostile work environment, regardless of his personal opinion of that.

If he did mean it ironically, then you are in an awkward spot, as your task is to communicate that he misjudged the relationship between the two of you and how much kidding around was comfortable. This is a very difficult situation to navigate, as being too direct will embarrass him and makes things uncomfortable and make you look thin-skinned, but not being direct enough will be seen as continuing the joking around. If you have a manager with good social skills, enlisting their help could make it easier to get advice on what to do and make it more clear that you don't find this funny, but also would escalate the situation and, if the manager isn't deft about it, make it more awkward.

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    Pussy in this context means pusillanimous. How on earth have you come to associate it with gender? That said, your first paragraph is where I imagine the heart of the issue lies. The other day I gave someone the middle finger after they'd said "good luck with that". She burst out into laughter, as I'd hoped. Precisely because my response was innapropriate outside the boundary of friendship and my gesture helped cement in her mind the high regard in which I hold her. People are odd creatures, that's for sure. :)
    – enhzflep
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 23:18
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    @enhzflep: What??? In American English at least, it is slang for a woman's anatomy.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 0:51
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    @Kevin - yeah, I know. Australian too. Did you miss the part where I said "in this context"? Think about it. If someone's scared of doing something, they're called a pussy. Do you reckon the slang meaning or the dictionary meaning of pusillanimous more closely aligns with the usage? Yeah exactly. Genitalia has no part in this discussion. ;)
    – enhzflep
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 1:03
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    @enhzflep Perhaps the word "pusillanimous" played some part in the term "pussy" coming to be used to refer to perceived cowardice, but now that it has acquired that meaning, I very much doubt that many people using it are aware of, let alone intending to refer to, that etymology. Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 1:35
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    @enhzflep: It is obviously a misogynistic slur, based on the idea that the (allegedly cowardly) behavior in question is feminine and therefore "bad." The reference to genitalia simply makes it more degrading. Converting some really obscure adjective into a noun is a much less plausible reading of the word, and I find it difficult to believe that you're even being serious here.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 2:47
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What was said to you was not appropriate and unprofessional. Unfortunatelly in life we are going to share spaces with people like that.

This is exact that caricature ignorant guy that thinks he is better than anyone and bullies the others he thinks are "inferior".

In my opinion, you would have been well within your rights to say something at the moment like: "Hey dude, I drink how I wanna drink, mind you own life", or something like that.

But as the situation passed, if you come to him and tell something now, he will realize you bothered about the situation and I'm sure his natural behavior will be respond even harder. He will want to get into your head and expose you in a bad situation to make you embarassed.

So, I've passed for a lot of situations with people like that and what solves the problem in most of cases for me is to respond short and straight as soon as it happens with some comment that makes clear we are not friends or close at all for this kind of behavior, something like "You not even know me dude, f***-off, just mind your own business"

So, as you didn't give the anshwer at the time, just chill, live your life, don't show you cared about what happened because the guy most likely not even remember about the situation (That is why you shouldn't come to him now, because you will create a strong memory of you being bothered and he will relate much more easier the next time and repeat the behavior). Treat him normal and professional if he crosses the line again, be straight and show he doesn't have intimacy with you at all.

Lastly, tip for life dude. Don't do something because people tell you to do. If you don't wanna drink, just don't. If people around you can't accept who you are, just run away from those places (If you have to be there, just go quick, drink a soda give an excuse and leave). If they keep pressuring you socially, don't mind being rude, for people like that being polite is just worse as they see as a sign of weakness.

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Firstly, consider that your coworker may have been drunk at the time he said this. Going after someone for things they said or did while drunk isn't often the most productive of strategies, because alcohol impairs your faculties of reasoning; this might be "the alcohol talking", so to speak. So be aware of this possibility, whatever you do.

Otherwise, handle this issue discreetly. Ask to talk to him privately one day, out of the way of the team, and calmly explain to him that you didn't appreciate what he said and you found it rude. Don't go off like "you barely know me" and so on and so forth, just say, in exactly these words, "I didn't appreciate the way you spoke to me at the team dinner; I don't usually drink alcohol so it was an uncomfortable situation for me, and you made the situation worse by making fun of me". That's all you have to say, then see how he responds.

If he responds apologetically, then accept the apology and move on. If he responds in a surly way, then you may want to escalate the complaint to your manager. Don't engage in an argument, and don't get angry; be the "bigger man", so to speak. If your coworker wants to start a fight with you over this, don't engage and just escalate to your manager.

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    I disagree with "the alcohol is talking" being a valid excuse. This is a social function involving coworkers. If you are unable to drink without saying something that you wouldn't say at work, then don't drink with your coworkers. Part of professionalism is being professional with your coworkers, regardless of the setting. On a more opinion based note, if that's how this individual acts when drinking, they shouldn't drink at all. There is never an excuse to mock someone for their mannerisms.
    – GOATNine
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 17:31
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    " but it is helpful to keep in mind that what someone does while drinking may not actually be who they are as a person" While that may be true, it does not matter when that person's actions directly have a negative consequence on someone else. Whether or not they were drunk is irrelevant.
    – sf02
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 18:01
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    @Ertai87 "in vino, veritas" ~Pliny the Elder. Alcohol reduces your inhibition, thereby exposing who you are at your core. It strips away the veil of social conformity and frees you to act as you would without societal influence. Acting more aggressively/meaner while drinking just shows that they're more conscious of how its wrong in society as they understand it to act that way toward others, so it takes inebriation to bring that side out. That side of them always existed.
    – GOATNine
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 18:48
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    The irony here is that someone for whom "alcohol is talking" is someone who should restrain or eliminate their use of this drug, much less be advising/kidding/harassing someone else's usage. Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 4:00
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    In my country many people like to drink a lot on social occasions. But not being able to handle your drink is considered one of the worst possible social behaviours. If you insult people after five beers, the beers are not an excuse, but it’s entirely your fault because you didn’t stop at three or four.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 12:28
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The appropriate response starts with F and ends in Off.
That would very probably have diffused the entire topic.

Any response approaching 'please don't treat me like this' would have failed to register on such a man. They would have continued their alpha aggression. They probably weren't aware that's what they were even doing, but such gambits respond well to equal & opposite force.

You could have followed up with an equally alpha joke such as "It's your round next. Get it now & save money. I don't want one yet, thanks."

Now, though, you have left it far too long to respond, so don't. He's completely forgotten it ever happened, had no idea it was even mildly offensive and would be offended by any late approach you make. [I know this is irrational, but people are irrational.]
Save it for next time.

You need to be prepared to treat this type of aggressive insult as 'banter' & respond like for like. Friends do it all the time. Colleagues sometimes can't tell the difference. Yes, it's an inappropriate comment, but it's not a 'dangerous' or even insidious one. It's a dumb bloke being a dumb bloke.

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How and what I drink in my free time is my business.

It may not be very polite but it gets the message across.

If the person continued insulting, I would then ask–in a voice loud enough to be heard by others–to please stop bullying a coworker or to go and sit elsewhere if they find my presence annoying.

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  • Thanks.. I felt responding to him then and there may lead to some drama or spoil the mood. So, I didnt do it but I realize now that I made a mistake of not responding there.
    – The Great
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 8:10
  • @TheGreat yes, the trick is not to ignore insults directed at you or anyone else for that matter (unless that person is your supervisor, so wait until the day after and have a private discussion).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 8:21
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    The way the colleague responded, is the behaviour the colleague is accustomed to seeing others performing, and they just imitated that. I've seen this in college, where people who didn't drink or smoke would be goaded and taunted. The colleague could be asked where they learnt such behaviour, and that it isn't appropriate in the current setting. One could also ask other colleagues for support, failing which one could simply get up and leave.
    – Nav
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 12:28
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What he said was impolite. You don't need to be polite, or rather, you can be polite, but you don't need to be gentle or care how that person will feel.

You don't say where in the world you are, but if you are in a developed country, you might be able to bring this to HR (after all, he is a colleague.)

These people are bullies and harassers. They know you have certain religious beliefs and still they bully you.

So you have to be firm. You need to confront them and tell them, "do not talk to me like that again."

Don't show them you are upset. Show them that you are angry. Angry doesn't mean being belligerent or out of control.

Anger, righteous anger, is a valid, civilized emotion.

So, simply tell them, "do not talk to me like that again."

And leave it at that. You don't need to explain anything to them, nor you need to hear their explanations or accept fake apologies.

Be ready to hear them saying "don't take it like that, don't be like that".

Be ready to retort, "I'm not here to negotiate or hear apologies. I am here to tell you to never talk to me like this again."

And if they insist, then retort as follows: "You act like the type of person who does not take 'no' for an answer, for whom 'no' means 'yes' when violating people's dignity. I will keep that in mind."

Then walk away. Don't stay to discuss or be dragged into a discussion. You set the terms of your own respect. You set your reasonable boundaries, and no one else gets to redefine them for you.

If you want to stop this behavior, you have to be cold, brutal, firm and to the point.

Mind you, the fault is also yours for never stopping this from day one. It has now grown into a situation where you need to escalate and stop this cold turkey. If this had been stopped from the get-go, this situation wouldn't exist. I'm not attacking you, I'm simply explaining the situation you are in.

Understand also that you will likely burn bridges and these colleagues will not be friendly anymore.

To me, I am more than willing, ready and happy to burn bridges with a nuke when someone disrespects me that way.

For you, you need to decide if you are ok and willing to live with it, to torch them bridges.

But you cannot be friendly with people who disrespect you and don't listen to you.

Either these people will wake up and learn to respect you (and be friends)... or they will not (either will keep disrespecting you or will "respect you" by excluding you.)

Either way, it's better to know ugly truths than to hide them under fake friendship and familiarity.

Good luck.

PS. Remember this. You and your dignity comes first. Everybody else comes second (even our own relatives), with co-workers coming a long distant second, or even third place.

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I rarely drink and avoid these situations by just leaving early. I don't enjoy being around drunk people when I'm sober so why stay? So while I'll go to social events, I'm rarely around after the food is finished. If I do stay longer I always remove myself from people getting drunk because I don't want drama or to ruin their night, it's not what I went there for.

You weren't enjoying yourself due to a cheeky colleague, so you should have just left or backed yourself up depending on what is appropriate in your culture.

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    that was not being "cheeky", though
    – njzk2
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 22:11
  • @njzk2 it's just words
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 2:00
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    impolite, rude, insulting, and abusive can describe words. "Cheeky" is not the only way to describe how people behave when they talk
    – njzk2
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 19:47
  • @njzk2 it's best to think of it as cheeky if you're not going to personally do anything about it.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 23:30
  • I wasn't there, so surely I'm not going to personally get involved. I still find it a few notches above "cheeky"
    – njzk2
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 17:30
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If you believe that drinking habits are a reason for calling someone a pussy, then your "life" has been so peaceful and protected from real life situations that you have no idea what it really means yes or no being a pussy.

If your colleague asks to elaborate, please refrain by saying something like:

No, thanks. This is a peaceful social event. I prefer to keep it that way.

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Since people around were constantly making fun of me, I thought it is okay to have once

Your colleagues are bullies

"I hate to say this. But don't be a pu##y. Stop being a pu##y".

This colleague is in addition an asshole.

Everything depends on your character and your willingness to fight back. In my case, I would have told them to stop being fucking assholes. If they would not stop I would left saying them to fuck off.

This means that you are worst-case in war with them, and best case you've shown them that you will not be stepped through and since bullies are usually insecure cowards they will leave you alone.

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As others have implied, leaning into the joke can help diffuse tension and settle peoples opinions. If it were me, I'd have done something like slurp the drink obnoxiously loudly. If the person doubles down, they're offended and genuinely think you're less of a man for sipping rather than chugging, and will probably say something that 'crosses the line' into HR territory, and if they laugh it off, congrats, you just turned it around on them and diffused the situation.

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In short, your collegue actually tells you: do it the way I want you to (in your case as regards drinking). This is sort of encroaching, and people use to do that often. That´s a great pity and just shows, that these people are a bit self-absorbed instead of trying to use a bit of their empathic power (if available 😊). It could be thought of various ways of response, depending on your intention. One way of a response could be just to sort of mirror him his behaviour, e.g.: „Oh yeah, I myself sometimes dislike, when people don´t do things the way I do things.“ And you could, if you like, add: „I should probably overthink my drinking-habits and think about drinking much more alkohol.“ Of course, that is not, what you really think of, but it could be a way to initiate a new sort of thinking in your collegue. Good luck!

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    Hello and welcome to Workplace.stackexchange - this answer seems to be suggesting a very passive-aggressive attitude towards their intoxicated co-worker, which doesn't seem like it would help the matter much, unless the goal is to further irritate their co-worker.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 18:09

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