Getting a Grip – What to Do About the Office Jokester?

Getting a Grip - Personal workplace advice from Handshake 2.0 Dear Getting a Grip:  A co-worker constantly makes attempts at humorous comments, always at the expense of others.   When challenged, she replies, “I was just kidding.  Can’t you take a joke?”  Yes, I can take a joke, but her comments are critical and demeaning, not funny.  Yet, if I question her, I look like the one without a sense of humor, as if I’m the one with the problem.  I dread being in meetings with her and avoid her whenever possible.  I’m enjoying my workplace less and less.  What do I do about this office jokester?

Dear Not Funny:  A comedian in the office is like a bully in the middle school.  We fear that a stand for justice will make us the new victim and result in abandonment or shunning by peers.  Like a bully, an office comedian seeks power over others and this disregard for mutuality is experienced with a very human level of dismay, even betrayal.

A show needs an audience.  Public efforts to confront an office comedian usually result in empowerment of the performer, not the people.  If you have co-workers who feel the way you do, and a supervisor who will mediate, a small group “intervention” may let the comedian know the stage is smaller than she thought.  Although the comedian is unlikely to change behavior, the meeting establishes that you no longer intend to be a captive audience.

Getting a Grip: Instead of leaving her show because she has the power, leave because you do.  Your presence is a gift and you have the right and power to choose to whom to give it.

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Need to start “Getting a Grip” on a personal problem at work?  Need workplace advice?  E-mail your question to [email protected].

Getting a Grip, a workplace advice column for Handshake 2.0, is written by Anne Giles ClellandGetting a Grip regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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Getting a Grip appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT.  A version of this column appeared in the December 2009 issue.

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