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Yesterday I left work with a charmingly unblemished face. Today I have a black eye. I imagine when I go into work there will be questions and rumors about it. In this case, my usual policy of honesty would negatively affect my workplace reputation, which is extremely valuable to me. Additionally, I expect this could escalate into gossip that I am unstable, violent, have poor choice of company, etc.

How can I best respond to mitigate any effect this will have on my reputation in the workplace?

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    I'm not understanding how receiving a black-eye affects your reputation negatively... unless you punched yourself? – Nelson Oct 28 '16 at 2:24
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    "No, not a fight, just a stupid accident. I'm embarrassed by it, and I really don't want to discuss it." Or do discuss it if you want to do so and it's a good story. Same as walking into the office after any other injury. Life happens. – keshlam Oct 28 '16 at 2:59
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    @JonP If you do that, say the first part but leave out your last sentence. Assuming someone would think it is domestic abuse and then trying to preemptively deny something like that is not good at all. – Brandin Oct 28 '16 at 7:01
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    Use makeup. Problem solved. Extra points if you make the good eye look like the bad eye. – Carl Witthoft Oct 28 '16 at 12:27
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    If anyone asks how you got it, just stare them right in the eyes for like three or four seconds, then say, reeeeeeal quiet like: “You want me to show you??” – Paul D. Waite Oct 28 '16 at 15:14

14 Answers 14

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It depends on how you got it.

If it was a simple accident, embellish. Tell the heroic tale of opening the cupboard and finding a loose can falling towards your face. Make it sound like Homer's epic.

If it was caused by something negative then "I don't really want to talk about it" will do.

If it was some heroic event (like the time I got a black eye, fat lip and a gash on the arm beaking up a bar fight), then OWN it. Be the hero! Let it get round that you are that kind of person that put yourself in harms way to help.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Oct 28 '16 at 18:23
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    "You should see the other guy!" – C Bauer Oct 28 '16 at 18:47
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    "If it was a simple accident […] Make it sound like Homer's epic". You mean the guy from Springfield, not the one from Greece, right? – I'm not paid to think Oct 28 '16 at 19:02
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    "The first rule is that I don't talk about it" – Raystafarian Oct 28 '16 at 20:27
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Another possibility is to sidestep the question with humor.

For example,

After I firmly wedged the bear's jaws around my arm, I threw it down on top of me and beat its paw senseless with my face.

It's so unrealistic, nobody will accuse you of lying; it's humorous, so people might well get a laugh; it implies that only an insensitive clod would pry further.

(The above is the actual "excuse" I used for scratches on my face this week, when I was embarrassed about walking into a tree mowing the lawn. My embarrassment has since faded, but the "trick" works.)

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    This could be combined with thursdaysgeek's comment on JohnHC's answer. – MissMonicaE Oct 27 '16 at 16:42
  • @MissMonicaE You are correct. I had read through the answers, but apparently not all comments were showing... my apologies for missing that! – Ghotir Oct 27 '16 at 17:09
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    Oh, I didn't mean it as a diss, just as an extra suggestion. Also, your fake story is by far the most entertaining of the fake-story suggestions. – MissMonicaE Oct 27 '16 at 17:19
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    One of my excuses was "It turns out, I really am too old to be climbing trees" and I think another one was similar to (but not as good as) Ghotir's excuse. – thursdaysgeek Oct 27 '16 at 20:28
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    Depending on the atmosphere of your workplace, something like "I forgot the safe word" will get people to stop being nosey really quickly! – Kat Oct 30 '16 at 3:26
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Don't lie--it's wrong and it will probably make things worse in the long run.

State firmly and politely that you don't want to talk about it. You can also say "I'm fine," which I think in this context is socially understood to mean "I'm not having a problem I want you to help me with," which is certainly your prerogative. EDIT to clarify, I mean a casual "Oh, I'm fine," not a defensive one.

If it's not as a result of abuse, you could reassure people if they're concerned about that--"I don't want to talk about it, but don't worry; I'm not being abused."

If you are being abused, please reach out for help to something like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a local shelter, or a trusted friend or family member. At work, keep saying "I don't want to talk about it, but thank you for your concern" and then change the subject.

I don't think this is going to affect your reputation--most likely causes don't reflect badly on you. If other people are prying into something you've already said you don't want to talk about, they are being rude and you are not. Change the subject or walk away.

EDIT (to deal with the more general concern about office gossip): If people are determined to talk, then (depending on you/your work persona and your office culture) you could try distracting them by telling everyone a different ridiculous story, such as "I was defending a child from a vicious T-Rex," "I was punched by a KGB agent while escaping from the Parisian catacombs," and "I was just walking down the street and a bald eagle flew into my face." Make them as elaborate as possible, and tell them with a straight face. That way, the chat around the water cooler moves from the actual cause of your black eye to the funny stories you've been telling about it. If you're being light-hearted about it, I think that will alleviate people's concerns about domestic violence and, if they still speculate, make them more likely to think it was an embarrassing but low-key accident.

A simple "Ha ha, you should have seen the other guy!" will probably suffice, and is also less trouble.

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    It may be rude of them, and I may be within my rights to not discuss it, but people will believe what they will, and that will affect me at work. – Throw Away Oct 27 '16 at 15:46
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    I do not want to encourage the belief that I am violent, unstable, keep poor company, make poor choices, or be in any way a subject of office gossip. My reputation is my most valuable professional asset. – Throw Away Oct 27 '16 at 15:57
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    Have previous conversations with your coworkers given you reason to believe that they would assume any of these things? Most people I know would (apart from worrying about DV) assume that you had an accident (eg getting mugged, which isn't your fault), spend time with flail-y children, or are secretly a martial artist. In my mind, the way you behave at work would outweigh the shiner when thinking "Is this person violent and unstable?" – MissMonicaE Oct 27 '16 at 16:02
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    @ThrowAway One issue is you're trying to skate both sides of the line here. You don't want to harm your reputation by telling, but you do so by actively avoiding talking about how got the black eye - even about why you don't want to talk about it. "Being evasive" is an action which contributes to your reputation. You're now the person who is evasive about potentially reputation-harming events. At a certain point, efforts to protect your reputation can actually harm it. (c.f. politicians who keep a scandal in the news by trying to cover it up, rather than just apologizing and moving on.) – R.M. Oct 27 '16 at 17:27
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    @R.M.I'm not trying to skate both sides- I'll tell the truth, I'll lie, I'll say nothing at all. I only mean to say in this case, the unfettered truth would be harming to my reputation. I agree with what you say in principle, please consider making it an answer. – Throw Away Oct 27 '16 at 17:56
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In general, I'm not a proponent of lying in the workplace (or anywhere else).

For better or worse, however, human nature tends to assume the worst case scenario if you "plead the fifth" under these circumstances. This assumption is even stronger if the bearer of a black eye or other facial injuries is female.

In what is already a potentially stressful set of circumstances, I find it's better to have a simple, convincing story. A "white lie" if you will, that protects your privacy and keeps comments to a minimum. It needs to be tailored to your particular circumstances, but sporting injuries or accidents during yard work ("I was caught by a branch while sweeping up leaves) are good examples.

Telling people "I'm not saying" will only pique their curiosity and may lead to more questions.

More generally, as others have said, if anyone has been subjected to domestic violence, then first priority is to head for safety and report the incident. Easier said than done, I know, but there is a lot of help available.

  • If you don't want to answer, the response "I'm not saying" is not the thing to say. If that's the best way you can think of to avoid answering an uncomfortable question, then it's no wonder you feel like lying is the only alternative. However OP already said he didn't want to do that. – Brandin Oct 28 '16 at 6:56
  • Every lie can be avoided by something else with the same result. In this case, huge amounts of humour with wild stories. Those transport the feeling that everything is OK and that there is no guilt involved with the OP. Which is what he is concerned about. – AnoE Oct 28 '16 at 14:33
  • Best answer. So long as it's not anyone at work's business, and assuming you will be asked by friggin' everyone, it's none of their business if you decide to tell a story. A slightly humorous story works. Practice the story. I've been in this situation, and even if people find out (when you tell them) much, much later on, they will not lose trust in you so long as it was your business. – JackArbiter Oct 28 '16 at 18:56
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Unless it caused by something you're ashamed of and/or don't want others to know just tell the truth.

Otherwise if you don't want people to know, you can either tell a convincing lie or say that you don't want to talk about it.

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    I'm pleading the fifth on the cause. – Throw Away Oct 27 '16 at 14:55
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    For better or worse, human instinct is to assume the worst case scenario if you plead the fifth. Much better to have a simple, convincing story. "Caught myself in the face when I was cutting a branch" will shut people up quicker than "I'm not saying". – Laconic Droid Oct 27 '16 at 15:09
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    @LaconicDroid Please consider making this an answer. In the end, I was questioned several times, and made the same excuse to everyone. The responses were a consistent "So that's your story, huh?" and then they dropped the subject. – Throw Away Oct 27 '16 at 18:02
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    My brother once accidentally gave himself a black eye (as a kid) by attaching a suction cup to his eye socket, then pulling it off. He was so embarrassed that he told everyone he hit his eye on a doorknob! I imagine they all assumed something far worse than reality happened to him. – CJ Dennis Oct 30 '16 at 5:07
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    The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution says that people cannot be made to incriminate themselves by their own testimony. – holdenweb Oct 31 '16 at 8:37
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It's going to depend highly on the reason for the black eye, on the culture, and on what is considered socially right and wrong in your work group.

Examples of how the response can depend on the cause:

  • Beat up a child that fought back, got in to a fight with a little old lady, was busy beating your wife and she had enough, or other "bad" things that are generally not well thought of: Just say something like, "It's fine, I'm good." (side note, get help with that issue)

  • Silly accident like trying to remove a plunger someone stuck on a glass door, only to have that plunger whack you in the face as it popped off. Trying to uncork a bottle of wine with just two fingers to have the cork pop out and you smack your own face. Threw a super ball around a room and had it hit your eye: Tell the story. Get a good laugh from it. I would tell the story once or maybe twice to the office gossips, then when asked, say something like "Got beat up by a super ball, don't wanna talk about it. It's a sad day when the warnings were right" and fake mope off to my desk.

  • Good old fashion fight that was agreed to (boxing like), Drunken brawl defending your woman's honor, fight with the guy at the club that got a bit mouthy, i.e. things that for some reason you feel proud of even though socially you know you really shouldn't (wait for the comments): I would probably, just go with "Live hard, Play hard" or "It was a busy weekend", maybe "Different strokes for different folks" In other words just avoid actually answering the question while at the same time keeping it lighthearted an letting the asker know "I don't need help with this."

Like I said, a lot of this can depend on your co-workers and what they feel is appropriate. For some people in some groups, a good bar fight is great fun on a Friday night. For others, it's the most horrible thing a person could ever do.

From personal experience, if you find the gossip to be to much, just bring a suit of metal armor to work to polish on your lunch break one day. That will certainly stop the gossip about your black eye.


About the experience listed above. I had a co-worker; he frequently came to work bruised and banged up. Gossip abounded. He brought in a suit of metal armor. People started going to his "re-enactment shows" instead. (He did medieval re-enactment at the medieval fairs as a hobby).

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You could go for blatant honesty:

It's too embarrassing a story to talk about now, but don't worry about it.

But no matter what you tell, truth or lie, gossip will always happen and is out of your control - what you can control, however, is how boring a thing you turn this into. "Black eye? Happens." VS "Oh, they don't want to talk about it? Then it must be gooood stuff."

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    Case in point: To me, you're just some stranger on the internet. I shouldn't care less about that black eye of yours. And yet, the mere fact that you keep the question very cryptic on purpose actually makes it interesting enough to be considered worth asking more... – Tobias Kienzler Oct 31 '16 at 13:17
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Fight Club ... literally

Just don't talk about it. No one is going to ask. And if they do, just say Fight Club. By the time it heals everyone will have forgotten it and gone on with their own lives.

From the foreword to the book, by Chuck Palahniuk:

At the time, I had a lingering black eye, a souvenir from a fist fight during my summer vacation. Nobody I worked with had ever asked about it, and I figured that you could do anything in your private life if it left you so bruised that no one would want to know the details.

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    Don't say Fight Club because the first rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about Fight Club. – Brandin Oct 28 '16 at 6:58
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    Then that would explain it − getting kicked (or I guess punched?) out of fight club for telling people about it could warrant a black eye :p – user1306322 Oct 28 '16 at 12:49
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    @Brandin This also violates the second rule of fight club which is: don't talk about fight club. – JimmyJames Oct 28 '16 at 14:39
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    @Brandin Then say instead: "I've been to this place... whose first rule states that I cannot talk about it, sorry mate." – CPHPython Dec 22 '16 at 15:44
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It depends on what you mean by "protect your reputation". If your concern is that people might think you were in a fight, or that someone is abusing you, but you don't want to talk about it, you could say something like "It was just a stupid, embarassing accident, and I don't want to talk about it".

If your concern is that people might think you were clumsy, then one of the other answers might be better.

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    But be sure to smile when you say it, laughing at your own clumsiness or misfortune. Otherwise they'll think you're hiding something, and that will cause more rumors, which is what you're trying to avoid. – Shawn V. Wilson Oct 29 '16 at 4:53
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From what you have said, the truth is something that would hurt your reputation because it is something with a socially bad connotation. For instance, you got into a fist fight with somebody and got punched, and revealing this will likely cause your co-workers to think you are violent, unstable, keep poor company, or make poor choices.

If this is the case, I would suggest something slightly different from the other answers.

Tell them something that is socially innocuous, yet so embarrassing or humiliating that they won't believe it could be a lie. I mean, nobody would willingly make themselves look bad, right? For example, you might say that you ate something that disagreed with you the night before, and in trying to rush to the toilet to vomit you tripped and landed your face squarely against a wall coat rack, and the blinding pain caused you to throw up all over your favorite jacket which you now have to get dry cleaned. Or maybe you just installed a new coat rack in your closet, and thinking you were more handy than you really are you didn't realize it was installed across the pathway until you stood up to examine your handiwork only to plow straight into it with your head.

Whatever you choose, just find something that is believable, but also make you look bad in a socially innocuous, "silly me" or "it could happen to anybody" way, and furthermore involves something like sickness or other personal body functions which aren't offensive but people don't like to talk about in order to avert further attention or questioning.

1

One forewarning: If it does involve a conflict with another worker, office grapevine will do the rest, your coworkers will know. Lying in this case is contra- productive unless they know that you are explicitly dodging the question.

If it is really, really embarassing and a bad situation, but noone else knows, one option is learning how to make a bandage and hide the black eye beyond a blinder and gauze. Go to the location of an eye specialist and stop right before the door before going away again.

Call your boss and tell him:
"I injured my eye by an accident and I am coming from the eye specialist. It will take some time to recover." (Hopefully you can work with one eye).

You did not lie, but did not say excatly the truth. Now you only need to wear the bandage for a longer time. If the bandage goes away, simply act naturally, squint and moan in pain. The black eye is an accepted byproduct of many injuries (unfortunately, many people get things in the eyes from concussions).

ADDITION: I am surprised that some people have a lack of good excuses. As my ex-girlfriend was working at an eye specialist, there the classical accidental causes for a black eye:

  • Corners. The number one. Especially in the dark and when running. Tables, doors, literally anything with a sharp corner which is on eye height or lower.

  • Protusions. The cupboard button. The extended radio antenna. The branch in the dark wood. The wall hook (I did not say "nail").

  • Falling down. Walking or from the bicycle, motor bicycle and slipping face down. On the staircase, on the pavement.

  • Throws. From the good old snowball (sometimes containing little stones) to all kinds of ball games. Tennis is a good one, too big to go into the eye like a golf ball, creates wonderful black eyes.

  • Looking up when something comes down. Do I need to be explicit ?

If this is not sufficient, I can add more.

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    This doesn't address the problem of what to tell people when they ask how you injured yourself. – David K Oct 28 '16 at 13:19
0

One thing you can do that I don't see mentioned is just take some time off and/or work from home until the bruise heals or can be covered up with makeup. In general I wouldn't recommend taking time off because of a black eye, but it is an option. Depending on your job I think working from home would be a good option.

I don't know what your work policies or situation is so I don't know if you can get time off on such short notice or work from home. I also am not in a position to judge if a request for a week off work without notice will be viewed less favorably than just going to work with the bruise. Personally I would go to work and either tell an obviously false ridiculous story, or just tell the truth. That being said I don't know as much about your unique situation as you do.

  • @JoeStrazzere That does make much more sense. – Erik Oct 28 '16 at 17:29
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Update: Edited per highly-rated comment.

Tell each person a different story, each more unbelievable than the last. When confronted with the inconsistency tell them the "real(TM)" completely different story.

Eventually reveal it's not really a black eye, it's just a birthmark you usually cover with makeup. That or you accidentally hit yourself in the face while opening a particularly tough can of Pringles.

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    Jelly opens in the wrong direction. It would have to be a Pringles can. – MissMonicaE Oct 27 '16 at 20:56
  • @MissMonicaE Updated due to the physics of snack containers. – CaffeineConnoisseur Oct 28 '16 at 19:04
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    I disagree with your approach -- while it might sound like a funny, lighthearted approach, more serious coworkers might see you as a manipulative liar who's clearly trying to hide something (which could affect your general reputation and trustworthiness). I think it's better to tell the truth or stick to a single joke or white lie. – Nick Weinberg Oct 29 '16 at 22:26
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A PhD wielding mathematician (ie: genius) colleague sported a "shiner" for a week or so at a previous job of mine. He walked into a rack he used for hanging the hardtop of his MX5 during the summer months. If you have a hardtop MX5 and you hang the roof on a rack during the summer then you could claim you walked into it.

Otherwise you have absolutely no option whatsoever but the truth.

Unless... You make up literally any lie at all out the literally millions of trivial examples of things you could walk into or bump yourself with! Doors, spanners, excitable dogs, kicked in the face tickling your kid, left the teaspoon in the coffee cup, seagull flew into the end of your telescope, tried to suck your thumb and missed, or same for picking your nose, coding in C++ using a reinterpret_cast on a pointer to a pointer three levels deep misdirected one level too many and a try block blew up in your face...

Seriously. How can you not know how to solve this? : )

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    This answer adds nothing new to the many already existing answers. Please remember to not repeat others. – David K Oct 28 '16 at 12:52
  • C++ Undefined Behaviour doesn't usually result in a literal a black eye, but the standard doesn't rule that out! It's surprisingly close to the usual joke of catb.org/jargon/html/N/nasal-demons.html. Claiming it's the result of C++ UB is actually one of the funniest suggestions I've seen here. Just barely good enough to be worth an upvote in an otherwise lackluster answer that otherwise just repeats other answers. – Peter Cordes Oct 30 '16 at 13:17

protected by enderland Oct 27 '16 at 20:38

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