Clever reactions

Don't put up with unfair behaviour when you start your career.

Have you ever felt this? Someone makes an impertinent comment, and you're so outraged you can't spit. That is already annoying in private life, but how on earth are you supposed to deal with it in your professional life? Should you, as an entry-level employee, just swallow stupid remarks so as not to offend? Or should you react? And if so, how?

My opinion on that is quite clear. Human rights also apply in professional life. Human dignity is inviolable. Even the youngest intern in the entire company has the right to be treated decently. However, not all colleagues and superiors seem to have internalized this. You will probably encounter inappropriate remarks in the professional environment more often than you'd expected. Here are a few tried-and-tested recipes on how to elegantly put a stop to such misconduct by verbally countering it, while still coming across as professional.


Just ask


Let's start easy. You can take the wind out of the sails of some stupid sayings by simply taking them seriously.


The next time you hear stupid remarks like "Come on, let's not be a bunch of nitpickers" or "Don't be such a bitch!", simply ask in a matter-of-fact way: "What exactly do you mean by that?" Then, the ball is back in your counterpart's court. Who will have to wriggle out of that embarrassing situation by explaining an inappropriate term in detail. Chances are that, in the process, he/she will probably discredits him or herself further by revealing hidden prejudices. Who would like to have to explain the etymological connections between this situation and lice infestment? Or explain what exactly a female dog has to do with your behavior?


Turn negative into positive

Yet another strategy for negative comments that will rid you of any negative touch in no time. The trick is to reinterpret a negative term in a positive way.


Example. You could respond to a "bitch" thrown in with: "If behaving like a female dog means to defend women and make sure they treated fairly in our company, then maybe this place needs more bitches."

You could effectively counter a larmoyant, "Now don't get so upset!" by clarifying that your being upset is very well justified. "Yes, I am upset because this is an issue that puts our team's success in danger."

Back to business


Comments that relate to personal matters are often particularly annoying. But you don't have to put up with that. After all, you are at work, and your personal life is irrelevant here.


You don't have to swallow stupid remarks about your clothes ("Hey - cool outfit! Got a date today?") or your shape on the day ("You look like shit - too much partying yesterday?"). You can discreetly point out that you are here to work and then go straight back to professional topics. If you follow up with a factual question, you force your counterpart to change the subject and get back to the matter at hand.


Referring to professional roles


Amazingly often, I've seen people behave inappropriately in their professional lives by not respecting the professional role of their counterpart.

Imagine, for example, that you are a marketing assistant. You are preparing a meeting to present your marketing campaign with your colleague. The boss bursts in and asks you (perhaps because you're the only woman on the team?) to get some  coffee. In that case, you could simply remind him that your professional responsibility is the meeting's content of the meeting and not it's catering.



Or an older colleague thinks she has to teach you how to do a certain task. Although you have clearly received different instructions from the (much younger) project manager. In this case, you could clarify who is responsible for your work area and ask the colleague to discuss her suggestions with the project manager.


It gets especially tricky when your boss tries to rid of his responsibilities by asking his employees to solve problems that fall within his own area of responsibility. You are missing essential tools for the task that you were assigned? Or two employees disagree about the division of labor between them? And the boss just comments: "Please leave me alone with this and solve the problem yourselves"? A clear case of mixing up roles. Instead of being speechless, you could point out that this is really a leadership task. A clever compliment can help you to hold the other person accountable. "After all, you as the department head have the most experience of all of us in such matters". Who could resist in enthusiastically fulfilling that role?


When you get completely stuck


Despite all your preparation, you will probably not be able to  avoid that a particularly stupid comment catches you so off guard that you are simply speechless and can't think of any reply (let alone a clever one). For those occasions, it is a good idea to have a verbal emergency kit. Because any verbal signal is still better than no reaction at all.


A simple: "Stop! This is unfair!" wil go a long way to show your counterpart that he or she has behaved inappropriately and that you don't allow them to treat you  this way.

Train your reactions


Has this inspired you? Why don't you practice one or the other strategy in your personal life, such that you can call it up with confidence in an emergency? Why not pick a certain method in the morning and try to apply it over the day? With the confidence you'll gain, you'll never be left speechless again. And you'll gain the respect you need from day one in your new job. Good luck!



Stupid comments, smart answers


Stupid comment:
"Mrs. Meier, our office plants could use some watering from your caring hand!"

Why not answer like this?
"Actually, I am a software developer. I don't know anything about potted plant development."


Stupid comment:

"What kind of crap is that?"

How about this response:
"Why so negative? Manure is highly valued as fertilizer in many places!"


Stupid comment:

"Cool shirt! Did they sell it in your size as well?"

My response:
"Well, certainly not in the size of the shortfall in our business figures which we are here to discuss."



If you'd like further practise, you are welcome in my „Not with me!“ workshops.


Write a comment

Comments: 0