update: my new coworker keeps joking about violence

Remember the letter-writer whose new coworker kept making graphically violent “jokes”? Here’s the update.

Thanks to your advice, things for the most part worked out, but not in the most ideal way.

I decided I still felt uncomfortable talking to my coworker directly, but also that I wanted to give it one more go with my manager because I had always felt like I was in good standing with him, he often told me how much he appreciated my work, and I had never had an issue with him taking my concerns seriously, so I felt that maybe I had presented my concerns poorly the first time, or that he had a bad day.

I went to talk to him again, explained why I wasn’t okay with dealing with the problem in a more direct way, and he begrudgingly agreed. Well, it turns out I shouldn’t have ever wanted his help, because all he did was, right in front of me, yell across the room to my coworker, “Hey, you and OP need to talk, because she doesn’t like the jokes you’ve been making!” I was appalled! My coworker just looked stunned, and we both went back to work.

Later on, I approached things with him, and he said he had just been joking, so I said to him what you suggested, and explained to that I understood it was a joke, but it was really inappropriate. He seemed to take it to heart and never said anything like that to me again. I noticed him saying it to other people, and mentioned that he might consider cutting that out too, as someone might take it more seriously than I did and he’s putting himself at risk of getting in more trouble.

I happened to be in a position where I was essentially training him, so he listened to my advice really avidly. He really is a great worker, and I nudged him into being more and more professional while at work. We’re all pretty young (myself, and my manager included), and this may have been his first job, so I think this new way of acting at work will stick (one can only hope!).

{ 61 comments… read them below }

      1. AMG*

        Yes, a total butthead. This was a very insightful experience for you, albeit embarrassing. Glad it got mostly worked out.

    1. Nina*

      First thought in my head. Complete ass. Puts the uncomfortable onus back on the OP for bringing up a legitimate problem, while insinuating that he (the manager) is OK with that type of humor in the workplace, but apparently SOME people (the OP) can’t take a joke, right? /sarcasm.

      Ugh. But at least the coworker showed some self-awareness and he’s not making those jokes to you anymore, OP. Good on you for standing up for yourself.

    2. Sunshine Brite*

      Yes, it reminds of something similar that happened with an RA during college. Really told me a lot about their ability to keep confidence/handle things.

    3. Pointy Haired Boss*

      Having dealt with passive-aggressive employees before, I can understand the temptation to remove their passivity — a passive-aggressive workplace tends to make already challenging work that much more exhausting; a workplace where people just yell at each other is strangely less stressful, since you can rest assured that if nobody is yelling then there is in fact no problem brewing. That said, it was the wrong move from a management perspective, as the employee is unlikely to appreciate or learn from the “tough love”, and far more likely to just never come to the manager again for anything.

  1. Arbynka*

    “Well, it turns out I shouldn’t have ever wanted his help, because all he did was, right in front of me, yell across the room to my coworker, “Hey, you and OP need to talk, because she doesn’t like the jokes you’ve been making!” ”

    WOW. I think I just rolled my eyes so hard I saw my brain. WOW.

        1. Hlyssande*

          The manager didn’t want to manage. When someone comes to you saying that someone else is making jokes about violence and they’re very uncomfortable with it, blabbing that straight to the joker has a very real chance of inciting actual violence, especially if the OP is female.

          The manager got lucky that this actually worked out okay.

          1. Fifi Ocrburg*

            Ther’s no proof that the co-worker’s conversation, albeit offensive, had any relationship to actual acts of violence. San Bernadino’s recent tragedy is an example.” he was a quiet guy, kept to himself.”

          2. That Marketing Chick*

            I disagree. He did manage in a very direct way. He got her to deal with a problem that she should have gone to the co-worker with directly, and got co-worker to stop. Win-win. My guess is that she will be more confident the next time she has a necessary peer interaction like that…and can understand that her boss was basically just pushing her into the pool to teach her to swim. I don’t think he was necessarily shirking his responsibilities.

            1. Valkyrie*

              And the only way to teach that lesson was to embarrass the OP and make himself look like an ass? He couldn’t have simply said “I would prefer you attempt to resolve the situation directly with your co-worker first, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll take it from there”??

    1. Vin packer*

      Right? After this update, the coworker comes out looking pretty good, actually–it’s the boss who seems horrible.

      1. JMegan*

        Definitely. Kudos to the coworker for accepting the feedback and changing his behaviour, and a big giant glass of WTF for the boss.

      2. Airman/Officer --> Civilian*

        I agree. It’s a bizarre turn of events, but the guy joking about violence is not the worst offender in this tale of terrible management. Actually it sounds like he was a young guy that took the LW’s advice about workplace behavior to heart.

  2. Bea W*

    Great update! Sounds like he didn’t know those kinds of jokes don’t belong in the office.

    SMH at your manager.

  3. NickelandDime*

    This is why AAM often recommends speaking to someone directly. I’m glad the coworker is reasonable, because what your manager did could have escalated things. Not cool.

    1. Vera*

      I think you’re a little off-base. The advice to talk directly to someone is because We Are All Adults Here, and we should be able to handle most interpersonal issues on our own without involving Boss….because Boss doesn’t need to spend time listening to people complain or having to play referee. It’s not because we’re afraid Boss is going to act wildly inappropriate.

      Trying to work it out on your own is the preferred solution, and what was recommended here, but people should be able to approach their boss if they feel the situation warrants it.

      1. Hlyssande*

        And the situation definitely warrants it when ‘jokes’ about violence make people uncomfortable. I wouldn’t feel safe directly approaching that coworker either.

          1. Hlyssande*

            Not if a person was joking about violent things to me and expecting me to find them funny. It generally depends on the situation and the dynamics. If it was a man that I didn’t know very well or at all, I would absolutely not say anything in the moment for fear of escalation to actual violence. Because that does actually happen to women in the real world.

          2. Hlyssande*

            Or rather, not necessarily, but that’s down to the situation, tone, interpersonal dynamics. I wouldn’t have a problem speaking up about it among friends. But a coworker I don’t know that well? Unlikely.

          3. Ethyl*

            Nope, especially not the types of “jokes” the coworker was making. If you go back and read the original letter, this isn’t just a slightly off-color remark or joke, this was graphic, explicit descriptions of violence that the coworker would like to commit on the LW. It was really, really messed up, and would have made me afraid for my safety, considering what I know about violent men (check out the Gift of Fear for more info, or Why Does He Do That).

            1. Ethyl*

              NB: not because only men are violent, but because of recognizing the specific pattern that’s been observed and documented in men who become violent.

              1. Fifi Ocrburg*

                But it hasn’t. Most workplace violence comes from someone no ones ever expected to be violent.

          4. KS*

            You want to go tell Patrick Bateman Lite over there to stop being creepy, when you don’t know what his damage is?

  4. appletoapple*

    Glad things works out for the best! It was probably a weird quirk he thought was acceptable, but just needed some nudging in the right direction.

  5. Ruffingit*

    The co-worker is amazing. Good for him for being open to the suggestion to stop this. The boss?? Total loss there.

  6. Brett*

    The manager needs to buy a lotto ticket. He got really lucky that his awful tactic had a good outcome.
    (I read back on the original letter to remind me that there was little chance that the manager actually had the insight to think this tactic would have worked with the OP and her co-worker.)

    1. Teapot liason*

      Seriously! If the coworker had not responded well, and the comments had indicated something more than tone-deafness, this could have put OP in a really bad situation.

  7. Mena*

    Crazy co-worker has now come the more mature and reasonable one (listening to feedback, incorporating it, shifting behavior) and Boss is the immature, unreasonable one. Boss has told you a lot about himself.

    1. AMT*

      Not to speculate, but it crossed my mind that the coworker might be mildly autistic and/or have trouble reading social cues. Maybe he misguidedly thought that these “jokes” made him sound quirky rather than unhinged.

      1. Liana*

        I’m not sure where you’re getting autistic – there’s really nothing in the post to suggest the OP’s coworker has autism, nor is it appropriate to attempt to diagnose someone over the Internet when you have almost zero information other than a single off-putting tendency (that they have since addressed and solved).

        Also, the manager sounds like an ass.

      2. ToxicNudibranch*

        That’s, um, not an appropriate assumption, and speaks to some unpleasant (and rather unfounded) stereotypes about people “on the spectrum”.

      3. HRish Dude*

        Can we go a day without armchair diagnosing someone in a letter as having autism or aspergers? Frankly, it’s offensive.

        1. Bunny*

          I have high functioning Aspergers, tend to miss social cues, and am grateful when someone GENTLY points out I’m being a dumbass.

          We blend in, and are outed when we make jokes about teenage hookers. Please note I work in a newsroom where this comment is acceptable.

        2. Fifi Ocrburg*

          But quite a few instigators of violent episodes did turn out to be on the spectrum or have mental health issues. Sandy Hook, for example.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            “But” followed by speculative generalization a la Fox News is probably one of my biggest pet peeves. It tends to reinforce erroneous assumptions about certain demographics, which then become disseminated as fact that applies to all people in that demographic.

  8. BuildMeUp*

    Wow. Your boss is either a huge idiot or was passive-aggressively “punishing” you for making him deal with a problem he should have handled from the beginning. I’m not sure which is worse!

    I’m really glad things turned out well with your coworker!

  9. LizNYC*

    Glad your coworker was receptive to the feedback. And given the events in California this week, those “jokes” really aren’t funny. And saying one to the wrong person could land your coworker in hot water for making threats.

  10. Mockingjay*

    Kudos to OP for trying the direct approach with the coworker, and for taking it one step further by pointing out that his terrible jokes are inappropriate to anyone in the office, not just the OP.

    It’s refreshing to hear that the coworker is choosing to emulate your very professional behavior, instead of your asinine boss. A nice ending for Friday!

  11. ToxicNudibranch*

    Your manager is *such* a jerk. He just destroyed any trust you had in him, and I mean, it’s fantastic that everything worked out like it did, but what if the Joker hadn’t been reasonable and level-headed about it?

    1. Shishimai*

      Quick question. Is “people manager” an intended contrast to “project manager?”

      $myEmployer has recently started using this all over the place, and it really rubs me wrong. It strikes me as another example of awful, poorly thought-out, redundant corp-speak.

      1. ToxicNudibranch*

        At my office, a project manager might be over a certain task, project, or suite of projects, but their title doesn’t indicate that they’re also responsible for hiring/firing/managing the employees associated, just coordinating the project itself. A people manager is just classified (again, at my office) as someone who has direct reports. So they’re two separate things, but being a people manager doesn’t mean you aren’t also a project manager and vice versa

        1. NYC Weez*

          At our company, people managers are those with direct reports. Manager specialists are those who manage projects that may involve some supervision of other employees, but only on the scope of those specific projects. Both types can be project managers. I’m a manager specialist while my boss is a people manager, and we are both classified as PMs. I coach newer colleagues in the course of working on projects, but I am not directly involved in any performance discussions. My boss handles all of those discussions plus the usual HR stuff (raises, bonuses, etc).

  12. Not So NewReader*

    OP, congrats on handling this with finesse and grace, it’s tough when people do not carry out their roles. I am sorry about your boss. But now you know that you have it more together than your boss does in the area of people skills. And your coworker seems to be an okay person. I am glad your conversation with him went well.

  13. Student*

    When I have had to explain to other people why I don’t find certain violent jokes funny, I find it is usually helpful to point out some basic physics differences between me and the joke-teller so they understand my perspective a bit better.

    I’m a small woman, and the person telling these kinds of jokes in my personal experiences has always been a rather large man. I try to point out that I live in a world of giants. For the joke-teller, this would be like being surrounded by professional basketball players (sometimes, being surrounded by professional football players, depending on the joker’s size relative to mine) all the time. I ask him to think about what it’d be like to hear that joke from someone who is much bigger and stronger than he is. I often recount a quick story wherein someone much bigger than me injured me rather badly completely on accident, mostly due to the large size difference between us. They are a threat to me in a way that they aren’t to each other, even when they don’t wish me any harm at all. So, when they actually engage in intentionally threatening behavior, it’s a much bigger threat to me than it is with someone their own size.

    For many of these men, they haven’t encountered someone who is significantly bigger than they are in decades, let alone on a daily basis. I encounter people significantly bigger than I am every single day. I know those people aren’t very aware that it’s much easier for them to injure me than it is for (1) they themselves to be injured in similar circumstances (2) me to injure them commensurately.

    1. Artemesia*

      Interesting perspective. I am a fairly large woman but I can resonate to that a bit since I too of course have encountered many men much larger than I am. I remember a guy I was dating years ago sort of grabbing and holding me fairly playfully on the dance floor and I could literally not move — by grabbing my arms and pulling me towards him, I was totally immobilized. I am 5’8″ but he was probably 6’2″ or so and had upper body strength. He wasn’t threatening me or angry — it was entirely ‘playful’ but I still remember nearly 50 years later, the sort of sense of danger and fear that created.

      The old saw that men fear humiliation by women and women fear that men will kill them has a basis in collective experience.

      1. Hlyssande*

        That just sent my shoulders up around my ears imagining it. I had a sort of similar experience once, where someone pushed me back against a wall and I couldn’t escape. He was very nice, but I noped right out of there as soon as I could.

  14. Liz L*

    I love reading these updates because resolutions are reached in the most unexpected ways. The manager’s reaction is awful but it’s fantastic that the coworker is now mindful of others through your influence. Good going, OP!

  15. WLE*

    I’m not at all saying your manager handled this in a good way, so please don’t take what I’m about to say as such. However, I do feel like because of how your manager handled this, it forced you to talk one on one with the joke maker and potentially be more comfortable handling a similar situation in the future. Additionally, I think the joke maker was probably more willing to change after speaking with you than he would have been if your manager just lectured him about it. I’d venture to say that the two of you probably have a better relationship than you would if your manager scolded him.

    1. Hlyssande*

      Seriously. Both the OP and asshole manager are so lucky the coworker took it well, because that could have turned out very, very badly.

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