RadioBDC Logo
Little Sister | Queens of the Stone Age Listen Live
< Back to front page Text size +

When The Boss Makes An Inappropriate Comment

Posted by Peter Post  December 22, 2011 07:00 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Yesterday, I was at a lunch meeting. After I’d finished eating (I wasn’t the only one who had finished), one of my bosses asked me if I wanted more. I said “No thank you. I’m finished.” My boss said, “You eat so little!” (I had actually eaten more than a full plateful.) My other boss then said, “That’s why she’s so skinny. She doesn’t eat as much as we do.” I get uncomfortable when people comment on my being skinny, and this isn’t the first time my boss has made a comment like this. I don’t really like these comments in general, but it seems especially distasteful coming from my superior. Is there something I can say next time she says something like this to indicate that I don’t appreciate her observations?

M. C., Flushing, NY

The temptation is to fire back a sharp response like, “And by looking at you, I’m so glad I don’t eat as much as you do!” That’s why I counsel people to think first before acting. While the smart retort can give you immediate gratification (“That’ll show them to make comments about me”), if the person on the receiving end doesn’t take it well, the relationship suffers. In your case the other people are your bosses, so refraining from making the sharp response is a good idea.

That said, you then have two choices. You could grin and bear it. At work, especially dealing with bosses, there’s a time to complain about behavior and a time to let it slide. Certainly, their comments are frustrating and inappropriate, but you have to ask yourself if trying to stop them is worth the effort you’ll have to undertake to make your point.

If you choose to say something, timing as well as words matters. You could try making your case on the spot, but that can backfire. People’s first inclination when challenged about rudeness is to deny it or defend themselves rather than to actually listen to you. Therefore, rather than saying something at the table where your comments may backfire, talk with your bosses one-on-one, in private. You’ll have a better chance of success. When you meet, be careful not to attack the boss, but to address the situation and how it affects you. “Ms. Smith, thank you for seeing me. Something came up at lunch today, and I wanted to touch base with you about it. It’s about the comments about me being skinny. I know it may seem like good-natured banter, but it’s happened a couple of times and makes me uncomfortable. I hope you understand.”

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article


about this blog

From looking for a job to dealing with the one you have, our Job Docs are here to answer your employment-related questions.

e-mail your question

Your question/comment:

Meet the Jobs Docs

Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.

Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.

Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.

Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.

Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.