I am doing an internship with another worker of my age, early 20s, and he constantly makes non-funny sexual jokes. We are both male. How do I make him stop this unprofessional behaviour?

I don't want to go to HR because it is not an urgent issue. It is just bothering me. I've considered talking to him, but I don't know how to approach the subject nor what to say about it.

What reasonable, professional steps can I take to encourage my coworker to stop his behavior, while not exploding the situation by going to HR?

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    Hey Conrad, and welcome to The Workplace. I'm having a bit of trouble understanding your question, could you clarify a few things for me? Have you asked him to stop making the jokes? If not, why not? Has anyone else in the office commented on it? Have you spoken to your manager about it? Do other people in the office make similar jokes? Explaining what the fundamental issue is, and why you aren't able to solve it by talking to him/your manager will get you better answers. Thanks in advance!
    – jmac
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 1:27
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    It would help if you could give 1 or 2 examples of the jokes which he commonly makes. That would help identify his motivation, i.e maybe he's just bored, maybe he thinks your into that kind of humour or maybe he is actually trying to be sexually suggestive. Sexual jokes fall under a very broad umbrella of comedy and each type can have a different underlying psychological meaning.
    – user59347
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 14:32
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    Is the problem an absence of comedic effect or a presence of sexual content?
    – Strawberry
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 12:45

4 Answers 4


If you like the other intern, then pull him aside and tell him that he's being unprofessional and that his jokes make him look bad. If you really want to make the point, look up your company's sexual harassment policies and point out what could happen if someone else officially complains about his jokes.

If you're indifferent to or don't like the other intern, or if he continues making the jokes after you've said something to him, ask for the advice of your manager. Tell your manager that the other intern is behaving this way, and you're not sure how to handle the situation. Your manager might ask you to say something to the other intern and report back about whether there is an improvement, or might do it themselves. If you have both a mentor and a manager, you could ask your mentor first. Part of the job of your manager (and mentor) is to help you get real-world experience, which is about more than just about the job skills. Real-world experience is also about handling uncomfortable situations like this.

  • 7
    " Real-world experience is also about handling uncomfortable situations like this." :) +1. It's part of the learning process.
    – Hugo Rocha
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 13:41
  • Yakshemash ! +1 for looking up policies. Perhaps it would help if the OP could first mock the offender's crude sense of humor - Dude, this is not funny (or is lame). Grow up. If that does not discourage the guy, then he can follow what you suggested. Chenqui. Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 5:48
  • 8
    I strongly disagree with mocking the other intern. The OP should behave professionally.
    – nadyne
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 16:28

In the past I've taken the same approach as what all the anti-bullying PSAs always say: whenever it happens, I call it out on the spot in plain language. "That's not cool. That was an inappropriate joke, not only for this office but in general." Don't browbeat him, or make any value statements about him. Just talk about the joke being inappropriate, and quickly drop the subject. After all, the ideal scenario would be this other guy learning why his jokes are offensive and changing his behavior and mindset for the better. You aren't trying to make him feel bad about himself.

This approach has the added benefit of helping to enforce a safer, inclusive office culture. If others overhear his jokes and feel uncomfortable as a result, seeing you challenge them on the spot may make them feel safer knowing that there are people willing to stand up to that behavior.

If he's the type of person who will try to defend his inappropriate behavior, it's your call whether you want to challenge him further. I would not do that in the work environment; I would invite him to discuss after work. Or you can always drop it and then talk to management. Honestly, though, I've never had to deal with someone who defends themselves when called out on acting inappropriately. I think most people realize their mistakes when they're called out. Everyone seems to say, "oh, you're right. I didn't realize I was acting inappropriately. Thanks for letting me know."


The next time it happens, I recommend that with a concerned/worried look on your face, you say in a slightly-lowered tone—like you don't want anyone to overhear—"Hey man, I'm worried that you could get in trouble for saying jokes like that. I'd hate to see some kind of consequence if someone were to overhear you making that kind of joke."

You can reaffirm the relationship as well if desired, "I like working with you and don't want anything to happen that would prevent that."

Notice that the focus of your concern is on him. There are very particular reasons for this exact style:

  • It locates the source of the disapproval onto a vague other person, distancing yourself from the issue. This is intentional because it reduces the challenge to the ego of the person you're speaking with. It additionally positions you as on his side instead of as being the one who is upset. This works even if the person intellectually understands that you don't like his behavior—in my experience, this kind of third-party risk seems to slot into the human psyche with positive results.

  • It is a safe way to raise the issue in a way that is non-threatening to the jokester, all the while still subtly communicating that there is, in fact, risk to him.

  • It gets the job done of communicating with the person directly, but with less at stake personally about how it's offensive to you. It isn't fair to go straight to the jokester's manager, but confrontation is hard. This is a way to be direct about the issue but feels less confrontational.

  • It doesn't address the person's motives, intentions, or morality, which in fact you don't know. It only addresses behavior. For all you know, he just came from a job where this kind of joke was common or even expected. By keeping it external and behavior/consequence focused, you aren't creating offense where it isn't needed, which is a risk with answers that imply "you bad person who did an evil thing". You can go down that route if you want, if once the objectionability of the behavior is communicated he does it gratuitously to offend.

  • Feedback is most effective when done in the moment. Later feedback that past behavior was not appropriate is far less effective. People have trouble connecting past actions to present feedback. Giving the feedback immediately will have the greatest possible chance for changing behavior quickly.

If the first round of feedback is ineffective, then shift your concern from him to other people, "Joe, I'm worried that some of our colleagues will overhear you and be really offended by that kind of talk. Could you try to avoid that in the future? I'd feel bad if someone were to be needlessly hurt or even feel harassed."

If these two levels of feedback are ineffective, there is no reason to see these communications as a failure or as having backfired in any way, because you have laid the ground work for feeling comfortable broaching the issue with management. If the behavior continues, now it is perfectly fair to escalate. In fact, it shouldn't hurt your relationship with the person because you tried to look out for him and keep him from getting in trouble. That is only to your credit.

He's going to probably find out it was you who raised the issue with management no matter what. In the end, using my suggested strategy keeps the whole issue professional and does a lot to remove you as "the bad guy"—no, you were just looking out for others, even if that is yourself in the third person.


Take him aside, and tell him the facts.

  1. You feel that his "jokes" are quite inappropriate, and definitely not funny. You don't like them, and you would very much prefer him to stop. Due to your personality, and not being victim of the jokes, you will not be taking any action, but you still want him to stop.

  2. Due to the nature of his jokes, if he tells them to the wrong person, that person might take action, and if they do, that could be major trouble for him. And if that happens, and you as his colleague are asked about it, you would answer truthfully. His jokes are not funny, you told him, and you are not going to lie for him if he gets into trouble.

  3. Due to the nature of his jokes, if he gets into trouble any other way, and someone needs material against him, these jokes can and will be used against him, even if nobody is actually offended.

Summary: You are slightly offended, someone else might be badly offended, and he's painting a big bullseye on his back.

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