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I recently left my job to join a small startup. Everything was fine until one other person joined. The Startup founders and the new starter always talk about social things like football, dance and other stuff. While talking, they make fun of my behavior and mock me. Sometimes they insult me in front of others in small matters. Crack jokes on my accents, laugh at me for being vegetarian and taking no drinks. I always smile on such behavior without saying anything.

How should I react to this situation?

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    Do they make fun of everyone else as well, or just you? – Dukeling Apr 14 '14 at 16:54
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    If it makes you feel any better, I'm a nondrinking veggie with a Kiwi accent living in the UK ;) teasing is often friendly thing, not intended in a mean way. If it gets to the point of genuine bullying, then perhaps it's time to worry. Otherwise, try to chill :) – Reinstate Monica Apr 14 '14 at 19:55
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    Is it one colleague or many that are doing this behaviour? The title and question seem to not match in this regard. – user9158 Apr 15 '14 at 1:43
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    If you are comfortable with who you are - vegetarian, accented English, non-drinker, then it's mind over matter. You don't mind and they don't matter. It'll matter when you become their boss and you'll be firing a few people to inspire the others to watch carefully what comes out of their mouths. – Vietnhi Phuvan Apr 15 '14 at 18:14
  • What cultures are involved here? – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Apr 15 '14 at 22:00
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The way you are telling it, I don't think they mean any harm, but they are just fooling around.

If you are not comfortable about this, you should, tell them in private.

"Hey (person's name), you probably do not mean it this way, but I would appreciate it if you do not joke about y (your accent, eating behaviours etc.)."

If that doesn't stop them, try talking to someone more senior or the CEO of the startup, assuming they don't have a HR.

Always stay polite and professional.

  • I will note it's worth mentioning don't take every little thing to HR/CEO. In the more relaxed work places like start ups tend to have people enjoy being able to discuss politics, science, religion, culture, ect. We all sometimes say something that might genuinely offend someone without intending to offend anyone. Most of the people who prefer to work start ups like this dynamic. That being said if every time someone mentions alternative diets you complain then you are being unreasonable, on the other hand if they single you out because you're vegetarian and you're offended then talk to them – RualStorge Apr 15 '14 at 14:23
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Unless this continues on past the point where it becomes exceptionally personal (insults about your family or nationality for example), where it interferes with your work or it becomes physical, I would advise you to ignore the person. If most people see that their behavior isn’t having the desired effect, they’ll get bored and stop as that ruins the “fun” that they are attempting to have.

If things get to the point where this behavior is impairing your performance, then I would confront the person in question in private and tell them to knock it off. State clearly that this isn’t funny and it is interfering with your ability to get your job done. Unless the person is a real bully or a sociopath they will apologize or they will try to lessen the impact of what they were doing and then discontinue their behaviors.

If talking to them personally doesn’t work, it’s time to involve your supervision. Ask for a brief meeting with your boss and explain the situation. Make it clear that this interfering with your work as this will make any competent supervisor put an immediate stop to it. If you are asked if you can work with this person (this is a trap) always answer “Yes” as if you don’t, then YOU and not him will be seen as being “the problem.”

NOTE: If this new person is a “rainmaker” (a high-level performer) and you are not, or if you have had other similar issues with employees, you may have to consider that this company’s atmosphere is not good for you and you should begin your job search. While this may seem unfair, most companies are going to err on the side of a higher level performer than a “lesser light” and they may use this situation as a reason to get rid of you.

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My suggestion is to first corner the founder, and explain him clearly why you're uncomfortable. Don't assume he knows how you feel: tell him like he's a five year old. Tell him that in your culture or where you're from such behaviour is considered insulting, and why. Again: don't assume he is doing it on purpose.

Give things a month. If after a month you're back to square one, then leave. Right away. If that's the "core" team, it's likely that under pressure things will only get worse and jokes will escalate to racism, sexism, and misbehaviour with future female employees. You don't want to get involved with such people - and if it's a startup, there**will** be pressure and sh*t will hit the fan.

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    Wouldn't bring in culture. Culture can be adjusted to. Just tell them you do not like it in a professional way. – Kevin Apr 15 '14 at 13:10
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If you make fun of yourself first, you leave them nothing for cannon fodder. What I have learned most is those that pick at or make fun are unhappy with themselves. Instead of taking offense, tease them back but make fun of yourself. Ignoring them does not always work and many will try harder to get some sort of reaction out of you. When they tease you about not taking any drinks, tell them the last time you drank a you took home a pre-op transvestite street walker and THAT is an experience you will never want to repeat. Go so off the wall that all they can do is laugh about it. It will stop or it won't, but it doesn't matter because then everything is taken with a grain of salt! Jokes about being a vegetarian? Tell them you rode a bull one time and the horn impaled the calf. The baby cow didn't make it but you'll never ride a bull again that's for sure! It's so stupid and corny that folks just can't help but look dazed and confused or laugh about it. It's 100% harder to make fun of someone that makes fun of them self.

With a small start up there will be stress and the need to blow off some steam. Enjoy and embrace the moment rather than take everything personal. Developing a thicker skin goes much further than whining and complaining to the founder or HR, because then you become "that guy". Tease back. Having fun and cutting up has a place in the work place since you spend more awake time at work than you do at home.

If, however, it does go wildly too far to the point of plain meanness and rude behavior then pursue it further by talking privately with the person, with the founder, or HR. Establish boundaries that everyone knows can not be crossed.

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    You cannot joke about yourself and then go to HR to complain about them joking to you. If something bothers you about someone, tell them, don't be ignorant. -1 – Kevin Apr 15 '14 at 14:01
  • Sure you can. I can call myself fat all day long. Call me the "N" word and I'm pretty sure that goes "wildy too far" and can be something to complain to HR about. All the OP does it smile and takes it. That's being a push over. Standing up for yourself and getting all defensive makes you the aggressive guy. Laughing about it makes you part of the party and not the joke of the party. Too many sensitive people in the WORLD today that get offended if a dandelion touches their hand inappropriately. If it is genuinely offensive, mention it. If you're over reacting then roll with it. – Travis Apr 15 '14 at 15:22
  • Ofcource but you are stating once it gets out of hand go to HR directly. Where it would be better to discuss it in person first. OP is obviously uncomfortable about those jokes/remarks. Why would he fuel the jokes/remarks? Just a professional conversation would suffice if he's talking to professional people. – Kevin Apr 15 '14 at 15:40
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    I updated to add to talk with the person privately, however, by making fun of yourself you are taking away the fuel. I am giving a personal, real world technique that worked for me. I am much happier and my professional career still remains professional but with a lot less stress. No worse than the programmer that was upset because upper management shot NERF balls across the room and it distracted him. Get up and shoot some too, blow off steam! Then get back to work and reap the benefits of your increased productivity. Or quit and find a position that you "fit in" more easily. – Travis Apr 15 '14 at 16:01
  • You are right. But OP seemed upset about the way he was handled, that's why I wouldn't suggest joking it off in this case. – Kevin Apr 16 '14 at 7:25

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