can I suggest a junior coworker tone down her sarcastic sense of humor?

A reader writes:

I am senior to but do not manage “Patricia.” She has been with our company for less than a year. She started as an intern but was hired as a regular full-time employee at the end of her internship. Patricia is very nice and eager to learn. She’s still in school but this is not her first job (although this is her first office job, I think).

The problem is she has a very dry, extremely sarcastic sense of humor that borders on inappropriate. She regularly says things that are outright lies as a joke. During a recent team meeting, the C-level for our department invited the team to her house for a holiday party. Patricia asked if she can bring her kids. The C-level asked if she actually has kids (as Patricia is in her early 20s and lives with her parents) and Patricia insisted that she has two kids. Finally, she admitted the “kids” are her cats. The entire exchange took up 5+ minutes of our meeting.

Other times, she’s made awkward/inappropriate jokes. Recently, someone was talking with her about a document they needed her to edit and she commented that the person who originally put the document together “must have been breastfed too long as a child.” When she says something off to me, I tend to say something to the effect of, “I never know if you’re joking or not.” She’s mostly stopped making jokes with me, but others in the office still fall victim to her jokes.

Patricia is very sensitive and I know she struggles with depression/anxiety (she told me). I have seen her burst into tears over a mild correction in the past. She is also the daughter of a long-time employee of the company, so that complicates matters.

I’ve heard complaints from people on and off our team about her sense of humor. It slows down normal communication (she’s joking when we need to get work done) and causes people to not know how to talk to her. People have started coming to me to avoid working with her.

I’m happy to talk to her (as someone senior to her) but I don’t know what to say to avoid her feeling like she’s being attacked. Do you have any advice on what to say? I’m also not sure if I need to just bring this to our manager’s attention. He is incredibly hands-off, but I imagine he would have to do something about it if there were complaints outside our department.

Yeah, ideally this would come from her manager, a mentor, or someone senior to Patricia who she works closely with or has good rapport with.

Any chance you’re in that third category? That would give you some standing to say something.

If so, one way to do it would be to ask her to go to coffee with you, so that you’re getting her in a more relaxed setting away from the office. You could ask her how things are going for her and say that you know it can be tricky to transition from intern to employee. And then you could say something like, “Can I give you some feedback on something I’ve noticed? … You have a very dry, sometimes sarcastic sense of humor, and I’m not sure it always lands the way you intend. I know I’ve mentioned to you before that I don’t always know when you’re joking, and my sense is that might be true of others too. That can slow down communication and can make people unsure about how to talk with you. I think you’re really good at ____ (insert some things you genuinely think she’s good at) and I want people to see that. My sense is your humor might be getting in the way of that, and I wanted to mention it because I really want to see you do well here.”

If she doesn’t seem to get what you’re saying, one way to elaborate would be to say, “You’ll sometimes say things that aren’t true as a joke — but in a work context, people can get confused by that and end up unsure if they can take you at your word. At work, you want the opposite of that; you want people to feel they can really rely on what you say.”

You could also say, “It’s not that you can never be funny at work, but there’s a time and a place for it, and you don’t want to derail or slow down a meeting for a joke, especially one that might be misunderstood or require explanation.”

All that said… You noted that she’s sensitive and has burst into tears over a mild correction, so I’d only take this on if you feel equipped to handle that if it happens. It would be a kindness to explain all this to her even if it hurts her feelings a bit in the moment, but you’ll have to decide if you’re up for dealing with tears or defensiveness. If she does get upset, you could say, “I don’t mean to upset you. I think you’re great, and this stuff can be hard to figure out at the beginning of your career. I got great advice from mentors when I was starting out, and some of it was hard to hear too. But it’s really normal to have to sort through this kind of thing when you’re starting out because no really really teaches it to you ahead of time.”

But if it just feels too iffy to you, especially with the potential politics around her being the daughter of a long-time employee, then it’s absolutely appropriate to talk with her manager about it instead. In theory, at least. In practice, you called him incredibly hands-off, and this is the kind of squishy interpersonal issue that hands-off managers often avoid, so who knows if anything will come of raising it with him. But because it’s at the point where you’re hearing complaints and people are avoiding working with Patricia, it’s definitely a reasonable thing to flag for him.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 424 comments… read them below }

  1. Knork*

    Because she’s so sensitive, I might also add “you’re probably used to your friends being more on your wavelength.” Which is, 1) probably true, and 2) gives her a bit of an it’s-not-you-it’s-the-coworkers out–she might not feel quite as attacked.

    1. BRR*

      Yeah I don’t know if it’s being too indirect but I feel like the best approach so that the message will be received is to frame it as adjusting your message for the recipient.

      1. boo bot*

        I don’t think it’s too indirect, especially because framing it as “consider your audience” is (I think) less personal, and so it can be said without a lot of softening.

        “Your humor is annoying and puts people off,” is something that has to be couched in a lot of polite noise before you get the message across, but you don’t need to tone down something like, “I think this isn’t the right setting for jokes like that; for example, people don’t know if you have kids or not, so if you say you have two, no one has any reason to think it’s a joke.”

        1. boo bot*

          Also, that particular one bugged me because I think the ‘joke’ rests on the assumption that she obviously doesn’t have kids because she’s in her early 20s and lives with her parents. Plenty of people have kids by that age; plenty of people live with family when they do have kids.

          I’m not just nitpicking here: jokes of the form, “person says blatantly untrue thing for comedic effect,” rely on the assumption that everyone shares a common perspective, and in the working world (and the world in general) that’s not a useful assumption to be making, and it’s going to hold her back.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            It could be that, it could also be that “Patricia” assumed that everyone knew that she had no kids and considered her two cats to be her kids. I think sometimes people tend to assume things that we bring up/ mention in passing conversation at work will be remembered by our co-workers. “Patricia” has not been there long enough for co-workers to get to know her personal life that well.

            I tend to have a similar sarcastic sense of humor and have made jokes about things that are 100% not true, but when I do I really think about if it is something that people know about me and tend to stick with that kind of humor in my personal life and not at work.

            1. boo bot*

              I agree that’s a definite possibility – I have a tendency to say things I think are funny quietly, in a regular tone of voice, and I’ve had people not realize I was joking – mostly it’s a relic of the fact that I spend a lot of time alone, and mostly aim to amuse myself… the worst kind of inside joke.

              Anyway, regardless of what her assumptions are, what I wanted to convey was, she’s failing to consider where other people are coming from, and how the things she says might be received, and that’s not a great way to move through the world.

          2. Castawidenets*

            The “breastfed too long as a child” joke is also inappropriate for a professional context, and could very easily offend someone. I’m a breastfeeding mom of a toddler, and I don’t particularly care what people think of that, but I’d be taken aback to hear that used as a punchline in a conversation about work.

            1. motherofdragons*

              Yeah that one made my jaw drop. It’s insulting a colleague and breastfeeding practices all at once, in the workplace. No go.

            2. boo bot*

              Yeah, that one was so far out of line I don’t think it’s necessary to soften the message – it was wildly inappropriate and I think the OP can say so directly, in the moment, if something like that comes up again. Sometimes being embarrassed is the natural consequence of doing something embarrassing.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            Also, it went on for FIVE MINUTES? That’s not even 30 seconds worth of amusing right there.

          4. Sarah N*

            This. I’m guessing the conversation got drawn out because the senior people at the company were genuinely unsure if Patricia had children and didn’t want to be unwelcoming to parents in the workplace — for example, actual kids might very well have been fine at the party (or at least they would want to handle the question more delicately if it was asked earnestly), whereas cats are obviously not okay to bring.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think the fact that she stopped making jokes like this with OP based on OP’s previous comments is a good sign that she understands that concept and just needs a nudge to apply it to everyone in the office.

    2. Yvette*

      That is a very kind approach. And realistically, most people do not behave the same at work as they do with their friends. It is not about being phony, it is knowing what is appropriate for a specific setting.

      1. Drax*

        Yep. Work me and home me are such completely different people that it genuinely unsettles my friends to see me in work mode.

        Home me is just disheveled (read: total trainwreck) with a pretty dark sense of humor but work me is very put together and professional and completely appropriate.

    3. BadWolf*

      Yes, this is this case for me. I definitely have to dial back my sarcasm at work. I had to learn this the hard way after having more than person at work sort of stare at me and blink and/or be obviously unsure on whether I was joking or not. Things that would crack up my friends get me crickets at work.

      I watch the show Supergirl and a character recently decided to be an “official” super hero and is super enthusiastic. Supergirl and team showed up to handle something and New Hero bursts out an over-the-top stop-villian sort of speech and Supergirl says, “Let’s dial that back to a 7, okay?” Similar with sarcasm meter, although I think for work, dial it back to say a 3 or 4 and then inch it up as appropriate.

    4. smoke tree*

      Yeah, I would probably advise that it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution with humour at work since you don’t know everyone personally and it’s important to keep cordial relationships with people you wouldn’t necessarily be friends with. Since she has already toned it down with the LW, she appears to respond decently well to being told that her jokes aren’t always welcome, so maybe framing it in this broader way would be effective.

  2. Akcipitrokulo*

    I would be very, very offended at the breastfeeding comment, and even if I didn’t say anything or make a formal complaint (which I probably would, by the way), it would affect my estimation of her.

    I think it would be a kindness to her to let her know that this kind of thing can cause her issues/loss of reputation.

    (And, depending on location, you can run into legal/equality issues with that kind of crack. Which is worth mentioning if it is the case where you are.)

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Same re: the “breastfeeding crack.” I’d be so taken aback that I would have probably interrupted with “excuse me?” and then asked her to explain the joke. (Not because I didn’t get her “joke,” but because I think it’s sometimes valuable to make people who make everyone feel uncomfortable also share in that experience.)

    2. PB*

      Yeah, I went slack-jawed just reading that. Honestly, I think everything the LW described should be addressed with Patricia, but I know from experience that oftentimes these things fall by the wayside. However, if nothing else is every brought up with Patricia, she needs to be told clearly that comments along those lines, even intended as jokes, are not appropriate.

    3. Bostonian*

      Yeah, that comment was so icky in so many different ways. First off, I don’t want to think about my coworkers as breastfeeding babies. Second, the concept of being “breastfed for too long” is a little ethnocentric, since it’s perfectly normal in many cultures to breastfeed for longer than is the norm in the US.

      1. CTT*

        Yeah, I’m genuinely curious as to whether that’s something people say because I’ve never heard it before.

        1. valentine*

          It refers to developmental delay or failure. Usually, the person is suspect or off. It’s a movie/TV staple. (Or was. If it’s gone, good!)

          1. CommanderBanana*

            Huh! I’ve never heard it – I have heard “dropped on their head as a child” or “deprived of oxygen at birth” but never this one.

      2. Lance*

        Not 100% sure on it, but in general, it basically boils down to ‘stunted development’.

      3. Mystery Bookworm*

        I think it’s a suggestion that someone was babied, essentially. Although that’s just a guess on my part.

      4. Akcipitrokulo*

        Implying (wrongly) that breastfeeding “too long” (which isn’t even possible, by the way) – they mean “longer than is culturally expected where i live” (aka full-term or natural-term) is harmful to development (it isn’t).

      5. Jen*

        Catelyn Stark’s nephew Robin Arryn in Game of Thrones comes to mind…but yeah, this is a pretty inappropriate comment in general, let alone in a work setting.

        1. Midlife Tattoos*

          That was soooo cringey in the books, and even more so in the show. It was almost excruciating to watch.

      6. fposte*

        It’s floating around the internet as an insult–it’s not original to this person, and I suspect her having seen other people use it may have made her feel like it was okay. I think mostly it’s a suggestion that the person is really needy, immature, etc.

      7. Turtle Candle*

        That’s a particularly dicey one, because often it means simply “immature” or “needy” but sometimes it’s used to imply developmentally delayed or with some kind of cognitive impairment. I suspect that a lot of people who use it to mean “immature” would be horrified to realize that it’s also used in some circles as a way to say “retarded,” but it is. So yeah, that one definitely needs to be shut down.

    4. Spencer Hastings*

      I don’t even know what that comment was supposed to mean! When I was a baby in the early 90s, my mother was aware of some studies linking an older age at weaning with higher IQ. Those studies are probably regarded as inconclusive these days, but this is the first I’ve ever heard of the exact opposite being a thing. Is it a thing?!

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            Ah, maybe. I’ve seen/read GoT, but didn’t make the connection between writing quality and maturity — I jumped straight to intelligence.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Same here – my children were born in the early/mid 90s, and late weaning was all the rage. This is honestly the first time I’m hearing of having been breastfed too long being a bad thing. Granted, I’ve been out of the loop on this subject for quite a while.

    5. German Shortaired Pointer*

      See, I genuinely don’t get the joke. I definitely understand it to be offensive because it’s obviously implying something negative of people who breastfeed/were breastfed (or maybe just people who were breastfed after a certain age?), but I don’t understand what she’s implying or what’s supposed to be “funny”. I agree that asking her to explain is a good idea because as you said, it can make her feel uncomfortable, and also it might make her think through the joke a bit more and MAYBE help her realize why it’s inappropriate (especially in the work place). If nothing else it might help her see that you’re not a good audience for that type of joke.

    6. MatKnifeNinja*

      The breast fed comment would have gotten a “What the hell is wrong with you?” from me.

      I’m dealing with my own Patricia, and my sympathy gland for anxiety, depression and tears with no brain to mouth filter are spent.

      I love comedians, and many of my favorites are crass/sort of blue. What this woman is saying isn’t even funny. It’s not dry humor. It’s a bit swing and a miss trying to keep a conversation going.

      So how much is she’s channeling her inner Python or Kinison, I don’t know. Maybe she has no clue on what is work place appropriate responses. All I know is tough noogies on tears, because she’ll really be crying when she runs her mouth at the wrong person and they go to HR, or snaps going full bore ham on her.

      I had to give my cousin point blank details of what was appropriate work place talk. He has issues where he totally misses it. You may need to do that and bring up the examples.

      If Patricia is the golden child of some higher up, and can’t be touched, that’s a double layer of yuck.

      Leave humor/comedy to the professionals is a good rule of thumb for the work place.

      1. Original OP*

        I agree. And possibly I’m not doing a good job of describing her comments as “dry humor.” I don’t find it funny but I can’t figure out another way to name it except that I think she’s “trying” to joke.

      2. sofar*

        Yeah, I think Patricia needs to follow a strict “no more jokes or attempts at humor at work, period” rule. Some people may be able to follow a “Hey, tone it down a notch” rule, but I don’t think Patricia has the judgment to make that work.

    7. boo bot*

      Yes, I think the breastfeeding comment would have warranted speaking up in the moment, honestly – that’s beyond awkward bad-joke territory.

    8. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My hackles went up and I’m perfectly fine in an environment where people toss around F-bombs like nerf footballs.

    9. Falling Diphthong*

      I think that’s a good example of adjusting for your audience–at school, breastfeeding and for how long is probably a safely hypothetical thing you can joke about because that’s, like, a decade away from anyone’s real life. In a mixed age group that’s no longer true.

    1. Elle*

      Right? My humor is dry as a bone and neither of those examples were particularly funny (the cat thing was straight-up cringeworthy, and my love for my cat borders on obsession). Kinda reminds me of the person who wrote in about using ‘dark humor’ at work but their ‘humor’ was just weird edgelord behavior.

      Patricia sounds clueless and awkward.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        Especially cringeworthy because “my cats are my babies” reminds me of the Kitchen Nightmares episode about Amy’s Baking. I would *not* want people to associate me with her!

        1. The Supreme Troll*

          Honestly, the first thing that came to my mind was exactly that episode with Amy and Sami.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        That meeting sounded SO awkward, I got secondhand embarrassment just reading about it.

        1. Elle*

          Yeah, I can only imagine that the 5+ minute exchange felt like an hour to everyone else in the meeting.

      3. Burned Out Supervisor*

        Well, you could joke along the lines of “I’d love to bring my kids along, but cats don’t really travel well” without derailing a meeting, but even that’s stupid and weird if you just blurted it out.

        1. Elle*

          Even that would have been way better than insisting repeatedly that you have kids, only to reveal that surprise, they’re actually cats! Yikes. It’s possible that she was feeling defensive because the supervisor knew that she lives at home with her parents (and I know a few people in their 20s who do in fact live with their parents and also have children of their own), but still. Very awkward and unprofessional.

      1. Lance*

        And more so than not being funny… they’re causing clear confusion, especially in the ‘kids=cats’ examples. That is… not a precedent you want to set for yourself at work, if someone never knows if you’re being serious/honest about something.

      2. fposte*

        They’re funny for *her*, and it sounds like she hasn’t yet learned that that’s not funny for enough people at work.

        The cats thing especially is basically trolling. It’s low-key trolling–you could do it in a friendly online group without being a jackass–but it’s not a good work plan.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          I have an ex-friend who used to do this – but the ‘jokes’ weren’t funny and just made you feel stupid. For example, we were in New York together and walked past a restaurant and he goes “oh this restaurant was really popular for X (I forget what it was)” and I was like, oh, really? Because he used to live in New York so I thought he was just pointing something out, and he goes “oh, no, I was just being sarcastic.” His attempts at ‘deadpan humor’ just made the other person feel stupid and gullible.

          1. Anonymeece*

            Yup. She sounds like a person I used to be friends-of-a-friend with, who had this very deadpan humor that was mostly just insisting something then saying, “Ha, you’re so gullible!” when you, y’know, believed her. Or you would say something, and she would act upset so you apologized, then would say, “Gotcha!” type thing.

            That sense of humor tends to not do well with *any* group that isn’t “in” on the joke, much less coworkers.

            1. Just Employed Here*

              Oh gosh, I hate that kind of “humour”! Oh great, you need another person to be the butt of your jokes? Well, you better find someone else to tell them to, because I’m not staying here to listen to them.

            2. I Took A Mint*

              I hate that kind of “humor” that goes basically, “I’m going to lie to you and laugh when you don’t call me a liar” (because you have no reason to doubt me, or wouldn’t know that’s a lie, or you’re too polite to call someone a liar to their face).

              It leaves you with no possible way to react to anything they say.
              “Oh really? Wow.” Gotcha! You’re so gullible, I can’t believe you believed that.
              “Hmm.” Ha! As if, you totally fell for it.
              “That’s not true.” Are you calling me a liar? Or they double down until you buy it and then Gotcha!

              1. Sad Comedienne*

                I can’t speak for everyone who jokes this way, since it seems like some people out there are really out to make others feel foolish. But I also do the “say something blatantly false or overblown or ridiculous for laughs” thing and the reaction I’m really looking for is not to make people feel awkward but to either make them laugh or get them to play along. In my family of origin we’d just sort of naturally fall into a straight-man-and-comedian sort of back and forth that was initiated by saying something outlandish. It was very good-natured and fun. Unfortunately, I’ve found that outside my family, most people don’t communicate that way at all and I have to turn off that part of my communication style. It’s not a type of humor I would bring to the office anyway, of course, but I do miss having relationships with that kind of playfulness. (Everyone I know now is very literal.) Which is something different from the kind of “lying” humor being described here, but is so easily mistaken for it that I thought it worth bringing up the distinction. I would say if no meanness is being demonstrated, consider that a laugh or an eye roll may be all that’s desired from you.

            1. your favorite person*

              Whenever someone says, “c’mon, I’m just joking!” I respond with, “oh, I thought jokes were supposed to be funny.”

          2. Daisy*

            I’m in the UK, and I’ve come across a few Americans and Canadians that were into this form of humour (a small minority of all the Americans and Canadians I’ve met, but I’ve also not met anyone from outside North America that did this). They’d say something that as far as I knew was perfectly plausible, from someone I didn’t know well – ‘I’ve spent a lot of time in Afghanistan’, for example – and I say something like ‘Oh really? Doing what?’, and they say ‘Haha no I’m being sarcastic!’. I definitely do not get it.

            1. Spencer Hastings*

              Oh, man. I’m American, and I have the same confusion you do. The way I’ve always understood it, sarcasm involves particular styles of delivery – a tone of voice, a knowing look, a quirk of the eyebrow – that signal that this is, in fact, sarcasm. “So, your exam was postponed because of the snow day, huh?” “Yeah, I’m devastated.

              If something is truly impossible or ridiculous – not like “I have kids/I don’t have kids”, but truly fantastical occurrences – then I feel like I can get away with not using those markers. Like “Well, when I next get into my time machine and meet up with Napoleon, I’ll be sure to tell him that.” But at that point, I wouldn’t really call it sarcasm anymore.

          1. Clisby*

            Although, I’m not sure why the C-level exec didn’t just say “No.” Why this exchange took up 5 minutes is beyond me. Surely most people don’t think their kids (human or otherwise) are invited to work parties. At least, I hope not.

            1. Ethyl*

              Also yes! The whole thing was really weird it sounds like!

              Also I like your user name :)

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              It’s such an odd thing to say that you assume you must not have heard correctly. So you try the reasonable boss dealing with a reasonable underling raising a reasonable point process.

              Somewhere in the thread there’s a resonant example of how “I can’t tell when you’re joking” is not a compliment to the sophisticated subtlety of your rarefied sense of humor, but a sign that you can’t judge your audience and produce a humorous statement that other people will recognize as humorous.

            3. LJay*

              He may have been trying to figure out if the job needed to make some sort of allowance or arrangements for childcare for the employees to be able to attend, or for that specific employee if it was known that she was younger/in a low level job where she may not make much money.

              Or he may have been bewildered since it sounds like her mom is also an employee and might be more well known, and so not knowing that the mom had grandkids/the sarcastic employee had kids would be different than not knowing another newer employee had kids.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I think there’s an element, too, of her friend group at school being people who OBVIOUSLY don’t have kids (in her view). So things involving the existence and raising of kids are safe joking territory because it wouldn’t impact anyone listening.

        3. CM*

          This is an interesting point.

          I came here because I agree that this isn’t good comedy and doesn’t qualify as sarcasm, but I was confused about what it was accomplishing. I think there’s a change this person just says weird things, but I hadn’t considered that it could be a trolly kind of humor. There are some environments where that’s normal, even offline.

          If that’s what’s happening, though, I’m not sure that having a discussion about the over-arching pattern will do much. I think it’s better to stick with the Socratic Method in the moment and keep asking annoying questions about why the person told that “joke” until it becomes so un-fun to have to explain the whole thing that they stop.

      3. WellRed*

        I was so irritated just reading that cat thing I can’t imagine losing five minutes of my life to it in an actual meeting. Way to make a bad impression on the CEO too!

    2. Maggie May*

      yeah I have a dry sense of humor and a rather monotonous voice, so I’ve had to learn to give other clues that I’m joking. some people don’t like that, so I have learned to gauge situations and people to see if they’ll appreciate it or not…or even understand it.

      that’s less of a work lesson and more of an interpersonal skill, in my opinion.

    3. Hardcore parkour*

      Agreed. I found both examples to be kind of strange rather than funny. To go on for five minutes insisting you have kids is asking for a brusque shutdown. Just say, “Let’s get back to the business of the meeting.” If it happens again, you can say, “Is this going to be another 5 minutes of you lying about cats? Let’s skip that.”

      1. JunieB*

        I would lean towards talking to her in private rather than calling her out in front of a group. In my workplace, a comment like this would change the mood of the room and probably do more damage to the productivity of the meeting than a five minute delay. I may be wrong, though.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        “Is this going to be another 5 minutes of you lying about cats? Let’s skip that.”

        That seems like a very aggressive way to approach it. Definitely agree that quickly heading these things off in the moment will help, but I don’t think it’s nevessary to take it to that level.

      3. Oh So Anon*

        I’m not totally unopposed to shutting down harshness with harshness in a general sense but even I find aggressive to the point of being ineffective.

      4. Hardcore parkour*

        Having read the follow up comments below, I will retract the original suggestion. Some of my own workplace meetings can be fairly aggressive, and my comment would probably head off the really irate comments from attendees who would be enraged by the waste of so much time. But it doesn’t seem like Patricia is at a place of emotional readiness where she can deal with this kind of push back. Better angels should prevail.

    4. Stephanie*

      Yeah, agreed. Granted, senses of humor vary, but I’m missing the humor in either. OP should tell Patricia how this might be impacting her professional perception.

    5. Rex*

      Yeah, I’d describe those examples as not so much dry as … edgy? Of course it depends on the delivery, which we aren’t seeing. But I think edgy belongs even less in a workplace than dry, except in very, very specific work cultures.

      1. Mr. Tyzik*

        I don’t even think they’re edgy. The breastfed comment in particular is offensive, and as someone who has two cats and one child, I find the cat claim to be offensive as well.

        There’s dry, and there’s obtuse. Patricia is obtuse with her humor and it doesn’t fly. Talking to her would be a kindness. Someone like her would drive me crazier than I already am.

    6. MsClaw*

      Agreed. I have seen the replies from the OP further down and they seem like a generous-hearted person. So ‘dry and sarcastic’ may be the pleasant light they are choosing the cast these bananas remarks in.

      These remarks do not seem to me to be witty ripostes too edgy for a buttoned-up office. They seem like a real inability to read the room or understand what is appropriate for any office, and most crucially when it comes to jokes, decidedly not amusing. Patricia is young and new. Explaining to her that this is not the way to be is a lesson that will serve her well in the long run.

    7. Safetykats*

      Definitely not funny – just inappropriate. And that’s the comment that should be made. Not “I can’t tell whether you’re joking,” just “That’s inappropriate.”

    8. MatKnifeNinja*

      Thank you. I could possibly see the cats at home being done by Monty Python as a sketch (maybe), but that’s a comedy sketch not a joke.

      Bill Burr (maybe) could have pulled off the breast fed comment as part of his monologue, but what person wants to come across like Bill Burr on a tear at work?

      Both sound like someone trying way too hard to fit in and be accepted.

      1. Perse's Mom*

        At least with Monty Python it would be 1) a ‘reasonable’ if ridiculous set up for the confusion and 2) actually funny.

    9. TexasThunder*

      My wife had a colleague whose sense of humor consisted of saying very plausible things that were untrue.
      Like she got flowers from me and said “Huh, that’s not a dozen flowers. I think they only gave you 11.” My wife would count and he would say “OMG, you believed me!”
      So basically unfunny.

        1. TexasThunder*

          It was weird. I think some people don’t have an understanding that certain things are more plausible than they imagine.
          I worked with one guy who said he met Clint Eastwood at a party on a trip to California. I asked what was it like, did he talk about his recent movies. His response was “Huh, you believed me.” I just looked at him. I mean Eastwood lives in CA, and presumably goes out. Is it so weird somebody met him?

          1. Ethyl*

            I can’t believe there are so many people out there who do this! It’s so weird and mean and just…..weird.

            1. Someone Else*

              The common thread seems to be people who understand the concept of a type of joke that is “say preposterous thing and people will understand it is exaggerated for effect” but do not understand what is or isn’t plausible and consequently end up just saying false things that their audience has no reason to question. It’s sort of like… a five year old telling a joke but they’ve only sort of internalized the syntax.

              1. Jaydee*

                Right. It works if you’re April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation trying to convince people she’s actually a vampire or something because vampires are not real. Also, that’s a TV show and the writers are people who are legit funny and get paid to be legit funny and also get edited when their ideas are not actually funny.

                Also, I had that 5 year old. I referred to his sense of humor as either absurdist or surrealist depending on the day.

          2. The New Wanderer*

            “Well, yeah I believed you. That’s kind of a bizarre thing to make up, don’t you think?”

        2. Genny*

          It’s one of the worst kinds of “humor”, IMO. It relies on whatever trust we’ve established between ourselves and/or basic social conventions that you don’t tell a baldfaced lie and then crushes those conventions. The “funny” part is duping people into believing you and then showing them how stupid they were to trust you.

          1. Ethyl*

            So basically only funny for the person making the “joke.” Sounds a little like bullying or just being a jerk to me, personally.

          2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

            There is absolutely no winning with this type of person either. If you defy social convention and tell them you don’t believe them, then they will make a big fuss that you think they are a liar, until you give in and apologize, then they will turn around and say “HA – got you”.

            1. Just Employed Here*

              The way you win with these people is by not letting them manipulate you.

              – I met Clint Eastwood.
              – OK.

              – Can I take my two children to the party?
              – All employees can take their children to the party. Now, moving on…

              – I think there are only 11 roses.
              – Isn’t it a lovely bouquet?

          3. Alianora*

            I think it can be funny if it’s between two people who know each other really well. My brother and I do that to each other sometimes and it’s all in good fun (although we both know we’re making things up, we’re not trying to convince each other this is true. It’s more just making dumb statements.) But I would never do this at work or with someone I didn’t know well, and I certainly wouldn’t try to convince someone that I had kids instead of cats.

    10. Archaeopteryx*

      It’s more bad humor than dry humor to me- lies with no twist or point to them are just tedious… As if she thinks “It’s funny because it’s not true!” … Jokes take a little more finesse than that.

  3. Bostonian*

    Also be prepared for her to not take your advice to heart because it’s coming from you. You mentioned that she has stopped making jokes with you, so she realizes on some level that you don’t agree with them. She might hear your advice and think, “well, that’s just what [OP] thinks, they don’t get my jokes anyway”.

    So I think it’s important to emphasize the part of Alison’s script where you address that this may be the perception of other people, too (which is hard, because you don’t want to sound like you’re speaking for other people). I guess the important part is to emphasize “this is a work norm thing” and not “this is an [OP] thing”.

    1. Lance*

      Pretty good points here… and at that point, I think it’d have to come from her manager to really be taken seriously. Even if she hears ‘other people don’t like this/may think this way’, she may go ahead and ask those people, who may not necessarily be honest with her. Hearing it from her manager, I think, would send the message a lot more clearly.

      1. Safetykats*

        Yes. This is where people’s tendency to talk to each other and not the manager (usually because they”don’t want to get anyone in trouble”) is serving no one well. The best thing OP can do is take their concerns to management, and to encourage everyone else to do the same. That way management can effectively deal with the problem before someone does go to HR and the whole thing blows up, resulting in someone getting much worse than hurt feelings. Because enough comments like the breastfeeding one will get you fired, in any reasonable company. And because it’s really not OP’s job to police the behavior of anyone they haven’t been assigned to manage or mentor.

        That said, as I commented earlier, it always surprises me that despite all our training in appropriate behavior and speech in the workplace people are so reluctant to simply say “thats’s inappropriate.” You can tell when everyone in the room is thinking it, but nobody will say it. Go ahead and try it sometime: just say “I find that inappropriate and offensive.” It will generally shut things down pretty fast. And often, people will come by to thank you later.

  4. Juli G.*

    Yes, say something. I didn’t lie or take up 5 minutes but I was a sarcastic joke derailer early on in my career. So was a peer/friend of mine. After being passed over multiple times for promotions, we figured it out based off an offhand comment from a next level leader and helped each other course correct. If someone had given me the feedback, I could potentially be farther up the ladder than I am now. You could do her a great service (if she’s willing to accept the feedback).

    1. TypityTypeType*

      Yes, say something, LW! I ran into something like this — same situation, I was senior to a younger co-worker but not his manager. He was one of those people who thought he could mock others without their realizing he was doing it, and I remember exactly what I told him: “They always know, and they probably hate you for it.”

      He was, despite that terrible habit, a pretty decent guy, which was part of why I said it so bluntly — he didn’t seem to get that he was making himself very widely disliked. He was startled but did take it to heart and ultimately dialed the smirking and sarcasm way, way back.

      1. Mimi Me*

        Yeah, sometimes being that blunt works. I once worked with a gossiper who would preface everything with an excuse like ‘it’s not gossip because I’d say this to her/his face’. She was in the break room dishing some serious dirt about our manager to an uninterested audience when someone casually got up and came back a minute later with the same manager. The gossiper got quiet and person who brought the manager in said “you said it’s not gossip and you’d say it to his face. Go ahead”. It was awesome. She squirmed, hemmed, hawed, and turned red, but never actually said anything to the manager’s face. She stopped gossiping at work after that.

    2. Luisa*

      Similarly, I am so, so grateful to the (only-slightly) older people I worked with at my first real job, who let me figure out that my teenaged sense of humor (I was 15) wasn’t working by just letting my attempts to make jokes fall flat, waiting a beat without acknowledging anything, and moving on. It felt so awkward in the moment, but for me that was a clear enough message, and I adjusted accordingly.

      It sounds like a more direct approach is needed here, but my point is that whoever has this conversation with this employee is doing her such a huge favor in the long run! Let that knowledge help you barrel through the awkwardness!

    3. Anon and on and on*

      When I was a kid, I always had something smart and clever to say about everybody and to everybody. In college, friends told me that I was pissing people off. Instructors commented on my written assignments that I do great work but need to stop acting like a twelve year old. They were all uptight, though. I was hilarious. Everyone laughed, so I must be? Right? And then, senior year of college, a gifted eighth grader was in one of my classes. OMFG, STFU. Can we get through one freaking lecture without a cliched wisecrack…son of bitch, that’s really annoying.
      Learned to self censor. I still make comments and sometimes still blurt, but it changing my perspective changed my life.

    4. Smithy*

      Just here as someone else where the switch from my “humor/social self” to my “work humor/social self” was a journey – the sooner she gets this message the better.

      The transition from “this is what I automatically find funny” to “I find this funny and works for a broad office” isn’t as natural for all of us. And to put yourself in a thirty second delay can take time and it’s much easier to do so earlier in your career.

      While I was a volunteer at a children’s hospital, during a sing along hour where there were requests for shout outs the rhyme I came up with was just in embarrassingly poor taste. Not a joke, but it really shook me in the context that the path from my brain to mouth did not have the editing function I thought it did. Though that taught me I needed to be more careful, it didn’t make that growth easier or natural.

  5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Maybe I’m cold-hearted, but I wouldn’t soften the feedback if the practical effect of softening is undercutting the takeaway… which is that her “humor” isn’t working in this workplace.

    Depression and anxiety can be difficult to manage, but Patricia has to be able to take feedback, even if it results in her bursting into tears. If OP genuinely thinks she’s great, then of course, mention that. But don’t hedge or suggest that this is other people “not understanding her” when the humor itself (1) isn’t very funny, and (2) is derailing and/or inappropriate.

    I don’t know Patricia’s experience, and I don’t intend to advise on how she manages her mental health. All I can say is that as someone who lives with depression, knowing that other people will hold me accountable without hedging their feedback helps me manage my performance and my health. If things are spilling over in inappropriate ways, a comment from a colleague/friend helps me reassess if my treatment protocol is working (and if it isn’t working, feedback helps me probe why my health management isn’t working well).

    1. Mr. Tyzik*

      I wonder if her anxiety is behind her “jokes”. Perhaps driven by a need to diffuse an intimidating situation? I can relate to that feeling.

      Otherwise, I’ve got no clue.

      1. Original OP*

        I’ve found that the “jokes” happen most when she’s nervous so I think you may be on the right track.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          I’ve got a friend who’s an actor in the “just barely named part” zone, so her relationship to a megastar is about the same as low-level employee to C-level. New actors think they can chat up megastars and become friends: her advice on what to say to them is “your lines”. Period. Let *them* start the chitchat, until then stick to the script. In this case, the “script” is the social lubricant lines: “Hi, thank you for the invite.”

      2. Mimi Me*

        I wondered the same. I tend to use humor as a coping skill when I get really anxious and the more anxious I become the more deadpan my humor is. I once was on a crowded elevator and 4 year old was angry at me and cursed at me. The elevator gasped and I was mortified. I tried joking “wait till I get to the car so I can punish you without witnesses” A few people chuckled, but most of them glared at me even harder. Not my best moment. I remember that feeling when I have the urge to crack jokes now… not everyone understands my humor and I’d rather be anxious and understood in just about any scenario vs. the alternative.

    2. Mephyle*

      The purpose of framing the message in terms of people “not understanding her ‘humour’” isn’t necessarily to spare her feelings and give her a pass on accountability, but rather to mitigate somewhat her feeling of being attacked, so that she may pay more attention to the message instead of putting up defenses and rejecting the feedback.
      Unlike you, she seems not to be addressing her anxiety. LW and her co-workers would be happier about working with her if her mental health were better managed, but they aren’t in a position to hold her accountable about her mental health, only about her work performance. A tactic that is kind and potentially effective (like framing the message as mentioned) may make her more receptive to the message, which in turn could make it easier for them to work with her.

    3. Maria Lopez*

      I totally agree. I remember being very sarcastic in high school and thinking I was so witty. Fortunately that phase didn’t last long. In Patricia’s case it seems no one has ever checked her.
      She doesn’t get to be sarcastic and then have a thin skin herself. Everyone has anxiety and depression, it seems, but years ago that was called “life”, so she doesn’t get a pass.
      You don’t have to say anything in front of other people, but you do need to tell her that high school humor is not appropriate in an office. And tell her that everyone understands her sense of humor, but it just isn’t funny.

      1. Batgirl*

        Yeah I don’t see how she’s getting away with it without someone at least saying “I don’t get it” or “That is some abstract humour right there Patricia. Can we get back to work or do you need a spotlight and more time to explain the joke.”
        The places I’ve worked she’d get ribbed about her jokes or her “kids” and if she complained she’d get told that if you dish it, you take it.
        But I’m guessing she’s so palpably awkward it would be like stepping on a bunny.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Everyone has anxiety and depression, it seems, but years ago that was called “life”, so she doesn’t get a pass.

        Not cool. We don’t belittle other people’s mental health struggles here.

        1. Maria Lopez*

          What is not cool is thinking you should get a pass on unacceptable behavior by using mental health issues as an excuse.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Well, it’s not at all clear that Patricia’s behavior has been addressed yet, so we don’t know that she even knows it’s inappropriate. Criticizing people for doing things that they haven’t been told are out of line is also not cool, along with the “suck it up, buttercup” attitude of the line that Librarian of SHIELD cited.

            1. Maria Lopez*

              Her behavior has been addressed, although somewhat indirectly–“When she says something off to me, I tend to say something to the effect of, “I never know if you’re joking or not.” She’s mostly stopped making jokes with me, but others in the office still fall victim to her jokes.”– so she does know that her style of interaction is not appropriate. She stopped that behavior with OP.
              Apparently Patricia really DOES need someone to tell her to “suck it up, buttercup” (your words, not mine) before she gets it.

    4. ursula*

      Yeah I came here to say something similar! I have depression and anxiety (like literally so many people) and I hate the idea that anyone would treat me with kidgloves at work because of it – especially that someone would withhold vital feedback. This is not to blame OP for factoring it in, which I think is a good thing! I’m just saying.

      Also, bursting into tears doesn’t necessarily mean she can’t also hear you and be glad that you were straight with her. I cry pretty easily (not usually at work, luckily, but I can easily understand how that would be a trigger for others) and my brain does not at all stop functioning while it happens! If you can, try not to take it as a fatal flaw in the conversation. If I start tearing up at an inopportune time, I often say something like, “I know I’m having an emotional reaction to this right now, but I do hear you and I’m glad that [I know this new information, we are talking about this openly, etc etc].” Maybe you can turn that around and help her find a way through it. No matter how you spin it, talking to her is a huge kindness.

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I agree. It’s not her responsibility to control Patricia’s emotional response. Although I’m not sure it’s OP responsibility to handle this either, especially since Patricia’s comments don’t seem to be directed at her anymore.

    6. Safetykats*

      Yes. As someone who has suffered from depression – and my sister has had anxiety issues – I really resent the idea that a person with either of these problems, who is also reasonable functional, can’t develop reasonable coping strategies and shouldn’t be held accountable to do so. Trust me, neither of those diagnoses is going to help someone who is in HR for making inappropriate comments about breastfeeding – because plenty of people with those diagnoses manage not to make offensive comments to their coworkers on a regular basis. So really, it shouldn’t be part of the equation.

    7. Marty Marts*

      I really agree with this. It is not doing this woman any favors to soften the blow due to her sensitivity and part of being a working adult is being able to handle feedback, including negative feedback. Depression and anxiety are hard, but it sounds like it is turning into a situation where she is unable to be a good coworker or employee if people are unable to give her feedback. If it is that big of a problem, then she needs to look into accommodations or evaluate if working is appropriate for her right now. Mental health is not an excuse to be a bad employee.

      That said, not being direct with her is not doing her any favors. The breastfeeding comment was offensive. It was not funny and it is actually alarming that she got this far in her career (and yes, I realize it’s the beginning for her) without knowing that it is offensive and inappropriate to say these things. Right now she may not be in danger of losing her job, but she will be someday if she continues to keep this up. You can be both kind and direct, and in this situation it is very warranted.

  6. EPLawyer*

    Oh please, take the time to have a chat with her. If she is otherwise wonderful, this could hold her back in the future. Which would be a shame.

    Be gentle but clear. Alison’s script is great. It’s just pointing out what you’ve noticed and being open to a discussion about it.

    Considering she confided to you about her depression and anxiety, it does appear she sees you as someone she looks to for guidance in the workplace. You would be doing her a huge favor. And yourself when people start interacting with her instead of coming to you.

  7. Jennifer*

    I chuckled at both of Patricia’s jokes. The one about the cats – is that really offensive? To me, it seems the issue is that she is one of those class clown types that doesn’t know when to turn it off. Also, maybe joking around with an executive isn’t the smartest thing to do. She is funny but when people are busy or trying to get a meeting going it’s just annoying.

    The other issue is that it’s probably an office culture mismatch as well. It sounds like most of the people there don’t understand sarcasm or just don’t get her sense of humor. If people really can’t take her at her word because of her sarcastic sense of humor (seriously???) then I think she just needs to stop with the jokes altogether or find a workplace where she is a better fit. If she doesn’t understand when it’s appropriate to joke around and when it isn’t, it’s going to be difficult to explain. Taking her out to coffee is a good idea and somehow finding a way to gently suggest laying off the jokes at work is the best way to go.

    1. CTT*

      I don’t think the issue is that the kids/cats joke is offensive, but that it took up a ton of time. I love sarcasm and come from a sarcastic family, but I’d be annoyed if she spent more than 10 seconds on a joke like that during a meeting.

      1. PB*

        Exactly. It’s not offensive, but it was derailing. In addition, as a general rule of thumb, if you tell someone something that could be true and they believe you, that’s not a joke. You’re laughing at them for believing something believable.

        1. Bostonian*

          Yeah. For me personally, this is my least favorite type of joke. I’m naturally very trusting and gullible (and I really value efficiency- I don’t want to waste time analyzing everything people say, so give it to me straight!), so if someone were taking advantage of that for the sake of a joke, it would really grind my gears.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            Mine too! Along with the kind where someone says something that seems accusatory or adversarial, you try to respond as best you can, and then they’re like “oh, I’m just busting your chops.” WTF?

          2. Batgirl*

            Yeah not only do these types of people laugh at ‘gullibility’ but they tend to keep on insisting even when you actually don’t believe them so as to force the joke to happen, which is exactly what she did with the head honcho (seriously, not cool Patricia).

            Once upon a time I had just met the aunt of my first boyfriend, who insisted there were no bathrooms at the place where she was holding her party.
            This was obviously quite unbelievable so I said ‘no really’ like a dozen times before capitulating and saying ‘Well that’s very strange’.
            She leaped on the last one as her victory and was all gleeful.
            I instantly turned from ‘shy-kid, please-like-me’ into ‘wow-you-are-a-jerk-and-my-face-is-all-contempt’. She noticed too, and had the grace to look abashed.

        2. Krakatoa*

          Exactly, it’s not a joke to lie and say you were joking 5 minutes later. If you do want to “lie as a joke” it needs to be revealed within the next 10 seconds or so.

        3. designbot*

          It’s also not even that it was sarcastic, it’s that it was a waste of everyone’s time and left them confused.

      2. Jennifer*

        That’s my take too. If I was ready to go and pressed for time, spending five minutes on a joke would annoy me. She can’t read the room. Just hanging out around the cubicles and joking around with a coworker, it would have been fine, imo.

        People can’t take her at her word about work because she sarcastically joked that her cats were her kids? I mean…

        But if it ‘s affecting her work reputation, she has to tone it down. Some people just don’t get sarcasm.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s not because of one cat/kids remark. It’s that it’s a pattern that’s happening over and over. If someone’s idea of humor is “I say things that are perfectly believable and the joke is that you believe me,” then yeah, that’s going to affect whether people take you at your word. Why wouldn’t it?

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I mean, this is as annoying as someone at work who consistently says, “Your mom” or “That’s what she said!” At a certain point it becomes not funny and derailing, and then it becomes actively annoying.

          1. Ethyl*

            Wasn’t there a post some time ago where that was basically what was happening? I seem to remember that….

        3. Spencer Hastings*

          Sarcastically joking that her cats were her kids, to me, would sound like “I have two cats! Those count, right?” *insert facial expression here that makes it clear that I’m joking*

          What she’s doing is more like just making a false claim and the joke is “lol, it was false.”

          1. Lynca*

            Exactly. Someone described it earlier as low-key trolling and that’s honestly how it comes across to me. It’s not necessarily inflammatory but god it sounds annoying to have to deal with.

        4. Librarian of SHIELD*

          She didn’t just joke that her cats were her kids. She told her coworkers–who didn’t think she had any children–that she had two kids. When they didn’t believe her, she kept insisting for minutes and when they finally did believe her, she told them she was joking. That’s well outside the norm for both jokes and for coworker/meeting etiquette. People joke about their pets being their kids all the time and it’s fine. It’s the lying, the insisting the lie is true, then laughing at people for believing her. None of that is funny or okay.

          1. Safetykats*

            Yeah, apparently she was trying to get he cats invited to a work party. As if the cats would even want to come. But to me it reads less like a joke and more like junior employee doesn’t understand why asking whether actual kids are welcome is reasonable, but asking whether pets are welcome (while deceiving people by calling them kids) is different. If, as a manager, I had told someone that actual kids were welcome at an event and then had them show up with pets, I would be seriously questioning both their judgement and their trustworthiness.

      3. Kathleen_A*

        Yes, this is it exactly. Making the cat joke in casual conversation with coworkers is fine. Allowing the cat joke to extend a meeting and confuse/annoy anyone, particularly a supervisor – who just needs some simple information, for cryin’ out loud – is not.

      4. Turquoisecow*

        Yeah I know plenty of people with cats or dogs who consider them their kids and that sort of joke would be humorous. But not if it goes on for five minutes and takes away meeting time.

        A quick “oh, you have kids?” “Yes.” “I didn’t know that!” “Oh yes, they’re named Fluffy and Pookie and they have fur,” is funny in the right context. A five minute drag on where you insist you have kids and confuse other people and derail from a work meeting would just test my patience.

        1. Alhssa*

          Yeah that two liner is funny and cute and everyone would forget about it shortly. Going on about it for 5 mins is just weird.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          I’m honestly boggled as to how you could possibly drag it out for that long, even. “Oh yeah, I have two kids, and that reminds me I need new flea collars for them” might be funny or might not depending on your sense of humor and the delivery, but it’s… over quickly? So it’s more or less harmless. Five minutes would be a drag even if I wasn’t busy and wanting to get things done.

          Even if you’re as funny as Abbot and Costello and can make a long “Who’s On First” routine genuinely hilarious, it’s important to remember that part of the humor was that Costello’s character was increasingly frustrated and finally enraged that he couldn’t get a straight answer. Making someone else be your unwitting Costello-character is just going to piss them off, because the whole point of the joke is ‘it’s frustrating to not be able to get a straight answer.’ (Actually, maybe that’s a way to put it? Nobody wants to play your straight man in a long gag. It just comes across frustrating and maybe mean.)

          1. Jaydee*

            OMG do I ever HATE that routine! Like a visceral, disproportionate loathing. It is so far from funny to me precisely because it’s so frustrating and continues for so long.

    2. PugLife*

      I don’t know if the cat story is offensive so much as….. she really dragged that out for FIVE MINUTES DURING A MEETING. Time and place. And she was pulling that with a superior, too. Considering LW says that others in the office are coming to them to avoid having to work with Patricia, it’s evident that multiple people in their office find it off-putting and it isn’t the kind of joke that office is tuned for. I’d be incredibly frustrated if I had a younger coworker who was wasting meeting time like that.

      1. Alana*

        Honestly — and I say this as someone who tends to make too many jokey asides in meetings — someone that junior probably shouldn’t be talking in meetings at all unless she has something very crucial and work-related to say. That’s something for her manager to address, not the OP, but it leapt out to me because I think it’s a common error early in people’s careers, and it would be a kindness to her to point it out.

      2. Lynn Whitehat*

        If there were 12 people in the meeting, they wasted 1 person-hour on this lame cat joke.

    3. MissGirl*

      I have a sarcastic sense of humor with the best of them, but there’s a time and place, and it’s important to not take humor at other’s expense.

      It’s not that the first joke is offensive, it’s that she dug into it for too long. She could’ve said, “I’ve got two kids—my cats, ha ha.” But she seemed to deliberately want to make the executive feel confused and didn’t stop. Also, the second joke implies people who are breast fed for a long time are stupid. You really don’t want to potentially insult your coworkers. That’s a joke for a friend group.

      It takes time to know someone and for them to know you well enough to be able to use your sense of humor.

      1. Jennifer*

        Re: Cats Yes, that’s what I’m saying in my comment.

        No comment on the breastfeeding thing.

      2. SierraSkiing*

        With sarcasm, there are two ways for the joker to respond when someone doesn’t get it: Gallant Snarker will quickly back off and say “oh, I was just joking about having cats! Sorry, my delivery was a little off.” That lets Gallant accept responsibility for the joke and smooth over any hurt from a poor comment. It also helps get the conversation back on the rails. Goofus Snarker will double down on the sarcasm, confuse everyone, and finally huff, “Geez, I was just joking; doesn’t anyone here understand irony?” This takes up the group’s time and implies that everyone else is just stupid for not getting Goofus’ joke, and it ultimately poisons relationships.

        Patricia sounds closer to Goofus than Gallant. That’s not great in anyone, but especially bad in a junior employee.

    4. Dollis Hill*

      The breastfeeding “joke” is totally inappropriate and the cat joke is just so weird and awkward that it’s not even in the ballpark of amusing. Sarcasm is much more nuanced than just saying stuff that isn’t true or the opposite of something – persuading someone that they have two kids then admitting they’re cats isn’t sarcasm, it’s odd and out of place. Saying someone was breastfed too long isn’t sarcasm, it’s mean.
      I like and understand sarcasm, but it’s not always office appropriate, especially when it borders on offensive or is unclear whether it’s a joke or not.

    5. Ron McDon*

      I’d find the joke about her cats being her kids funny if we were just chatting casually, but I would be very annoyed if it was happening during a meeting. It’s being disrespectful of everyone’s time.

      I have a sarcastic, jokey way about me, but I rein it in at work apart from with a very few people whom I’ve known for years and know are on my wavelength. This is mainly because I have been mortified on the couple of occasions that a joke has not landed how I expected and I had to explain myself… if Patricia is still very young she maybe isn’t mature enough yet to realise if people aren’t reacting the way she thought it’s a sign that she needs to change her behaviour. In that case, giving her a heads up is a kindness.

      After all, if someone asks her a work related question, and are not sure if they can trust the answer because she jokes around so often, that is going to harm her reputation and career.

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It sounds like most of the people there don’t understand sarcasm or just don’t get her sense of humor.

      Ugh, no! This is not an office that doesn’t understand sarcasm or humor (and that’s a kind of insulting way to frame it when this would be a problem in most offices). Sarcasm is rarely appropriate at work in more than mild quantities, especially from someone junior. And this isn’t about not appreciating humor; it’s about the jokes being derailing, poorly times, and not especially funny (and in at least the case of the breastfeeding remark, really inappropriate).

      1. BethRA*

        I would say making cutting remarks about work done by someone else is a bad idea even if it isn’t as inappropriate at the “breastfed too long” crack – for the simple reason that you have no idea if the person who did that work is still around or if the person you’re talking to has a relationship with them. It’s a really good way to land on someone’s bad side.

      2. Maria Lopez*

        Exactly. To me, this is a person who really thinks she’s smarter than everyone else. The way she’s using her “humor” is really a put-down of others. Maybe it’s from her anxiety, maybe she actually does think she is above other people, but it is time for her to learn to work well with others.

    7. Elemeno P.*

      Yeah, I read this as a mixture of a sense of humor mismatch and not knowing when to stop. Joking about bringing your cats to a party as a one-liner during a meeting? Fine. Doing it for 5 minutes? Too much. Responding to a question with an over-the-top lie once in a while? Fine (example of this, because the commentariat here tends to assume the worst: I take a daily break to get a soda across the street, and I like to tell my bosses I’m doing something outlandish during that time, like cross-country skiing or robbing a bank). Doing it for every question? Too much.

      Especially with the anxiety, I imagine she identified humor as a way to make people like her, and would be super upset to realize that it’s doing the opposite here. Taking her out to coffee to talk about it and let her have a safe space to be upset is very kind and a good idea.

      1. Le Sigh*

        I think part of why your joke works though is it’s pretty obviously outlandish. Saying she had two kids might feel crazy to her, but to most people it sounds more like a statement of fact (and of course, it doesn’t work for all the other reasons you point out).

        Making one over-the-top statement as a joke can work well, since to many or most, it will obviously be a joke (“Be back in five, gotta rob a bank!”). But the coworker is doing the thing people do where she says stuff that on its face, seems reasonably true (like having two kids) and it’s not obvious it’s a joke…so then the recipient is just confused or feels like the butt of the joke when it’s revealed to be a lie.

        1. Batgirl*

          It’s not outlandish or jokey at all to say ‘I have kids’.
          To then double down and insist after the boss has said “Hrrmm I don’t… think you do, actually?” is to go further and open the gaping maw of awkwardness hell.
          For a few minutes there the boss is thinking “God, did I nearly just put a whole foot pie in my mouth and say she was too young and single for kids?
          “But I could have sworn she doesn’t…”
          Then Patricia is all “Haha fooled you!” It is just phenomenal in how tone deaf and needlessly awful it is.

    8. londonedit*

      Yeah, I don’t think it’s offensive as much as the fact that she clearly isn’t picking up on workplace norms and the general culture in the office. I have a pretty dry/sarcastic/classic British sense of humour, but if someone spent five minutes going ‘Yeah, I have kids. Yep, totally do. Two kids. Absolutely. Did I not mention them? Yup, two kids. Definitely have some kids. Oh yeah, two is how many kids I have. OH WAIT NO THEY’RE CATS’ in a meeting, that would be seriously annoying for everyone. Especially as she’s a junior member of staff attempting to joke around with a high-up boss. Workplace interactions are all about reading the room, and she’s demonstrating that she’s not very good at doing that.

    9. anon today and tomorrow*

      To me, the issue is that she didn’t even frame the cat one as a joke. It’d be a joke if she went “Can I bring my kids? They’re furry and purr a lot” or “Can I bring my kids – they’re cats, haha”.

      She doubled down on saying she had kids when the exec asked, and only admitted they were cats when pressed. There’s nothing resembling a joke about that approach. It’s just a weird derailment of a meeting and bound to be awkward for everyone involved.

      I wouldn’t even classify the cat example as a joke tbh.

    10. C*

      The cat thing wasn’t sarcasm; it was more of a prank. And not really funny. And doing anything that resembles a prank with a C suite executive is exceedingly tone-deaf, if not worse.

      The breastfeeding comment was sarcasm, but also pretty tone-deaf. And also not funny, in addition to being possibly offensive.

      It sounds like Patricia highlights the concept of “The failure state of clever is a**hole” (thanks, John Scalzi!), and at her workplace, at least, she’s not being clever.

    11. SurprisedCanuk*

      The cat joke was kinda funny to us because it didn’t waste much of our time. I also think you are missing the point of that example. She wasted 5 min of a C-level execs time. Her other joke was offensive.
      The OP wasn’t giving two examples of offensive jokes. She was giving two examples of inappropriate jokes. 1 joke was inappropriate because it was offensive. The other joke was inappropriate because it was in a meeting and wasted everyone’s time including a senior executive.

      1. Jennifer*

        I’m not missing the point. I said in my comment that it was a waste of time and it was inappropriate to say it to an executive.

        1. SurprisedCanuk*

          Well you did say “It sounds like most of the people there don’t understand sarcasm or just don’t get her sense of humor. ” That’s kinda missing the point.

          1. Jennifer*

            Both those things can be true. She can be inappropriate and incapable of reading the room and have a sense of humor that most people in the office don’t understand. She just needs to lay off the jokes when she’s at work.

        2. biobotb*

          You also said the most of the office probably doesn’t understand sarcasm, which is a huge leap, and why people are taking exception with your comment.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Guarantee you most of them understand sarcasm, they just know not to deploy it at work. I speak it fluently but if you get carried away with it the office in front of me, you’re going to get a blank stare because I don’t want to reward your egotistical, time-wasting, shenanigans.

    12. Mr. Tyzik*

      Maybe I’m being sensitive, but I have two cats and one child. Claiming a cat as a kid is offensive to me, they aren’t remotely the same in any respect of responsibility.

      As for the breastfeeding “joke” – I couldn’t and deeply feel a hole because of that. I would be very sad to hear this. It doesn’t make sense, and it just feels icky.

      Sometimes, jokes don’t land. That’s not the fault of the people hearing the joke but on the person telling the joke.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Yeah, I wanted to address that some people – particularly parents – would find the pet = child joke to be offensive for that very reason, and that combined with the (actually offensive, IMO) breastfeeding joke paints a picture that Patricia is at best immature and doesn’t really grasp the depth of adult responsibility and at worst has something against people with children. It’s very risky for a young person without children to make jokes that are even adjacent to childrearing at the office.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          There was actually a letter here once on that very subject where someone had referred to her cat as her baby in front of a coworker who she wasn’t aware had recently had a miscarriage.

    13. Dust Bunny*

      (I have two cats whom I adore.) The cat joke wasn’t offensive but it was an unnecessary time-suck to which Patricia was far too committed. It deserved a one-liner *at the most*, and that really only if the possibility if bringing children had already been brought up. It wasn’t funny or original enough to stand on its own and instead she wasted five minutes on it.

  8. SometimesALurker*

    As someone who has a history of depression and anxiety which had its onset when I was about Patricia’s age, I just want to note that Alison’s reply didn’t include how to modify your approach in light of this, and I think that’s spot-on. Patricia’s mental health may mean that the strategies she needs to use to address her at-work sensitivity to criticism and frequency of at-work tears may be different than other people’s strategies, and it may be harder or take longer. But in terms of how you interact with her when giving criticism — treat people with kindness when you’re giving this kind of advice, and that’s all you need to do.

    1. BookishMiss*

      Yes. The absolute best thing my boss did for me when my brain went haywire was to be kind, patient, and firm as hell about what was and wasn’t ok at work. When I slipped, she quickly, but kindly, helped me course correct. I likely walked away with an exaggerated idea of “professionalism,” but tbh her kindness is what saved me. If she’d been harsh or cold… It would have gone badly.

  9. From That Guy*

    I think she has a great sense of humor! I am sorry it is at the wrong place and wrong time. I do hope she finds her niche.

    1. SometimesALurker*

      In that case, can you explain what the breastfeeding joke meant? I’m curious.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        It’s a put-down, of course, though without knowing the person being put down, I’m not sure exactly what it means here. Sometimes this particular phrase means “was babied/indulged/catered to too much” or “is immature.”

        Anyway, it’s definitely not a very nice thing to say about someone, and while there might be times when it’s funny, it sounds quite inappropriate for work.

        1. SometimesALurker*

          Okay, so it’s a put-down, but it’s also not… accurate? Since breastfeeding “too long” doesn’t cause those things.

            1. valentine*

              The insult is over 30 years old in the US. I would say it references a white middle-class ideal of white middle-class women breastfeeding until teething, but definitely for less than a year.

              1. Clisby*

                Yeah, I wasn’t thinking of the GOT reference, but more the strange ideas some people have about breastfeeding.

          1. TootsNYC*

            it might be blamed for causing other things–like relying too much on Mommy/other people, not having initiative, etc.

            And she may not have really focused on exactly what she means; she may just be grabbing a phrase, or trying to use the opposite of another (“not having been breastfed long enough” could be seen as a dig on someone’s intelligence, since there are people who talk about the benefits of breastfeeding to infant development).

            These things aren’t always logically thought out.

        2. Celia*

          I also think that it implies an unhealthy co-dependency between mother and child. In Game of Thrones, one of the characters is breast-feeding her son when he’s six, and it’s meant to be weird.

        3. Choux*

          It can also mean “is weird”. I’m thinking of Robyn Arryn in Game of Thrones, still breastfeeding at like 7 or 8 years old and noticeably being “off”.

      2. breastfeeding advocate*

        I don’t think it’s funny (and I support “normal” or “extended” breastfeeding). That said: The idea that breastfeeding too long makes people dependent (again–not true) is what I took as the “joke.”

        That said, I would never file a complaint. I found a commenter’s comment that they find it icky to even think about a co-worker breastfeeding to be more offensive and would file a complain if such a comment were made in my hearing.

        1. Bostonian*

          I hope you’re not talking about me, because you completely misread my comment. I said I would rather not have to think of a coworker as a breastfeeding baby (the one being fed). There’s nothing “icky” about breastfeeding itself.

        2. NotSoNewMom*

          As a someone who gets as frequently if I’m “still doing that” when I take a pumping break (kid is 12 months old), I’d be really offended.

          1. Midwest writer*

            Me too. My third child is 15 months. He’ll nurse until he’s 2 or 2.5, just like his older brothers. By now, my family (both mine and my husband’s, actually) has stopped commenting to my face about it, but I know they continue to think I’m beyond weird. It’s become a sensitive subject and if someone at work would say something like that, I would be upset.

      3. Original OP*

        That was one comment that I didn’t directly hear from Patricia but my friend/coworker did. She (kindly) took Patricia aside afterwards and told her that comment left her “speechless—and not in a good way.”

      4. Jennifer*

        It’s similar to telling someone needs to cut the apron strings or the umbilical cord. It’s saying they were babied too much growing up.

          1. Ethyl*

            I think the ableism comes in because, as I understand it*, the “joke” is meant to convey that the person is developmentally delayed and thus inferior. That’s……not a great look.

            * I’m still not convinced I’m understanding it! I’m past 40 and have lived in the US my entire life and I have never once heard this joke, so I am going by what others have said in this comment section regarding the connotations of the comment.

            1. Washi*

              Yep. She wasn’t trying to imply that the person who put the document together is being babyish, she was trying to imply something about their intelligence. Which unprofessional in general, but throwing in a breastfeeding comment is another level of ick.

            2. Jennifer*

              No, it just means that they are a “mama’s boy” (or girl). Not developmentally delayed but sheltered or spoiled.

                1. Spencer Hastings*

                  Right, why would being a mama’s boy have an effect on the way a report was written?

              1. Ethyl*

                That read also doesn’t line up with how the comment was used in the context the OP provided. In context, it is clear it was meant to convey “this person is stupid.”

      5. matcha123*

        Babies breastfeed. Someone being breastfed too long = someone that’s a baby. That was my take.

        I found it amusing. I was breastfed in the early ’80s, as was my younger sibling.
        I can laugh because when I was a baby the only people breastfeeding (in general) were poor people and maybe immigrants. Upper-middle class women had the money for formula and disposable diapers (which I did not use as a baby). Nowadays, it’s the upper-middle class looking down on the poor for using formula when 30-some years ago they were turning their noses up at the boob. *shrugs*

        I feel for the woman in the letter since I have a pretty dry sense of humor and find it really hard to believe that people will believe obviously ridiculous stuff. I turn it down to basically 0 at work. Watch reactions closely when I go dry and quickly clarify that I was joking if the listener doesn’t get it.

        1. Elspeth*

          Well, when people are avoiding the coworker because they don’t know if she’ll be trolling them, that’s a problem. There is a time and place for everything, and her pattern of behavior at work really needs to change.

        2. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

          What I don’t get is why it would be obviously ridiculous for an early 20s person to have 2 kids? Unless it was a, “Ha, ha! It must be obvious because I am not one of THOSE types of women”

          1. Original OP*

            It wouldn’t be necessarily, I was married vey young myself, but everyone in our department knows that Patricia is single and living at home with her parents. They also know she doesn’t have any kids. The C-Level in the room knew that too so that’s why it was so confusing to everyone.

      6. Name of Requirement*

        It’s old, a dig a intelligence, means someone is deveolpmently challenged or stunted. It’s not about dependence and predates the breast is best movement.

    2. Knork*

      Really? Jokes about breastfeeding are, as someone above mentioned, very much teenage edgelord territory. And “haha, I have kids but they’re cats” is incredibly cliche. Spending two sentences on that joke is dumb and it’s been done to death. Trying to make it into an entire conversation is just…asinine.

      I enjoy dry humor and sarcasm, but my reaction to this is “grow up, get a clue, and stop screaming for attention.”

      1. Amber Rose*

        Ugh, yeah. Every year when we get our taxes done, my husband makes the same crack about claiming our cat as a dependent. It’s annoying, but at least it doesn’t derail us for more than a few seconds. If it was a five minute conversation I’d be tearing my hair out.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          I would LOVE to claim my dog as a dependent, since I’m nearing being 10K deep into this pupper just with medical expenses.*

          *1000% worth it, I regret nothing, she is the light of my life and my best snugglebuddly slurple face

          1. SigneL*

            Yes, we had a very sick dog who needed a week in the doggie ICU ($10K up front). We’re so glad she survived, but we have had to think hard about what would happen if she has a relapse.

            1. CommanderBanana*

              Ooof, I hear you. She needed emergency surgery she wouldn’t have survived without, and fortunately the prognosis was really good – but the only way to have known was to have the surgery. Now she’s getting long-needed (she’s a rescue) dental work this week.

              I’m so glad that I was able to scrape it together though – she’s recovered beautifully and I love her so much.

        2. Just Employed Here*

          I’ll be doing our taxes tomorrow, quietly chuckling at this comment. Yay for traditions, Mr Amber Rose!

  10. Amber Rose*

    I had to have a semi-similar conversation with someone about this (they got written up for too many complaints about their attitude), and they responded in a frustrated tone, “It’s like you’re saying I can’t be myself!”

    And I had to kind of be like, well, yeah. You’re not getting paid to be yourself, you’re getting paid to do your job well for the benefit of the company. You need to be You-Lite. Yourself but with a lighter, softer flavor and in a mature packaging aimed at adults.

    But also I had to point out that “yourself” in that person’s case was kind of negative and obnoxious and maybe that wasn’t the self they really wanted to be.

    1. Original OP*

      That makes sense. Saying something like be “you-lite” would make a lot of sense to her I think and also avoid making her feel like her entire personality was under attack—which was what I was worried about!

      1. Amber Rose*

        Yeah, and feeling attacked is just not helpful. You-Lite is the best way I can think of to explain it, since I personally view it as my Professional Person mask, which makes sense to me but not to everyone probably.

      2. TootsNYC*

        And point out that she can absolutely be herself other places, with friends and family.
        It’s just for while she’s here at work.

      3. biobotb*

        It might also be worth pointing out that *nobody* is their true self at work–even if they don’t naturally lean sarcastic. Some people can’t be as silly as they’d like; others can’t be as grumpy or misanthropic. Some need to tone down their chipperness. It’s not just the dry/sarcastic people who temporarily sand off their edges to fit into a professional mold.

    2. BRR*

      As someone who loves to crack jokes and be sarcastic, I really have to agree with the fact that you can’t always be yourself at work. It’s about knowing how you can fit into the work structure and in this case, it’s impacting her reputation. I had the joking pointed out to me by my manager and looking back, it was really good for me professionally. If the LW wants to take this up, I think it would be doing Patricia a favor.

    3. starsaphire*

      I like the You-Lite phrasing! This is great.

      It also works for someone (like me, *blush*) who is a fiend about something like, say, Dr Who. You-Lite can mean keeping it down to two or three decorations, rather than covering my entire desk/cube in Tardises and carrying around celery in my pocket.

      It did take me a looong time in career years to learn that “being myself at work” was not the same as “being professional.” I wish someone had pulled 25-year-old me aside and explained You-Lite.

      Totally stealing this phrase, btw. :)

    4. Anon and on and on*

      Oh, like the Grump from the other day. “I’m not going to be fake.” Well, in my perfect office, you would be gone.

    5. MsClaw*

      ” You’re not getting paid to be yourself, you’re getting paid to do your job well for the benefit of the company. You need to be You-Lite. Yourself but with a lighter, softer flavor and in a mature packaging aimed at adults.”

      This is one of the more brilliant things I’ve seen in a long time. Brava.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, that’s the whole point of “getting along with each other”, you have to tailor yourself to your surroundings. Know your audience. Know your audience. Know your audience.

      There are places to be yourself [at home, with family, with friends, etc] and there’s places to be the toned down version.

      This reminds me of people who are upset that they can’t wear hot pants and halter tops to church or to someone’s black tie wedding, etc.

  11. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    I have a very sarcastic sense of humour but early on I learned to tone it down at work after a co-worker told me I could kill with my words. Being sensitive isn’t a good excuse. Many people deal with depression and anxiety but still manage to be polite.

  12. CommanderBanana*

    While I generally love sarcastic, dry humor, I’m not sure someone who can’t take feedback without tears should be in the business of being the office “wit.”

    Deadpan humor can be difficult – if you use it too often with people who have a hard time picking it up, they just start feeling like you’re making fools out of them, and that’s unkind.

  13. CM*

    I know somebody just like this, and find him very frustrating to talk to — I can imagine how it would be worse with a coworker, where you really just want them to get to the point in a very straightforward way. I’d include a concrete example with Alison’s suggested script above, ideally an example of something she said that caused work-related confusion or delay, and wasn’t just a joke that failed to land.

  14. Original OP*

    Hello! Original letter writer here! Thank you for answering my question. Several things have happened since my letter.

    I did end up taking Patricia out for coffee and had a conversation almost exactly like the one you suggested. She took it well and seemed receptive. I chose not to bring it up with our manager at the time. Unfortunately, someone else did. Our manager spoke to Patricia a few days after I did and, I suspect, was a lot less tactful. I found her crying in a back room and she explained that she was basically told to quit joking entirely and that nobody likes her. I reassured her that people do—in fact—like her but that her sarcasm is sometimes hard to read. We talked a bit more and she seemed OK.

    Her relationship with our manager has not improved. He seems to have decided to work on “mentoring” her by giving her assignments way beyond her capabilities and then chastising her when the results aren’t perfect. To be clear, I’ve been with the company for almost 6 years and I would have difficulty with some of her assignments.

    Our manager briefly talked to me about becoming her manager, which I would have been happy to do; but then he went back on his offer and has doubled-down on his efforts to train her. Patricia cries several times a week and has mentioned to me that she’s considered just “not coming in anymore” because she feels that she can’t do anything right. I try to encourage her as much as I can and I’ve talked to my manager about things she’s doing well (she’s on a few projects with me). I’ve also made suggestions about the kind of projects I think she’s capable of and would help build her confidence.

    Today, Patricia has asked for a meeting with myself and our C-Level so I’m not sure what the outcome will be or what she wants to discuss.

      1. valentine*

        Original OP, it sounds like you’re undermining your manager. Are you sure the “nobody likes you” came from him and is not her catastrophizing? You don’t know how she responded in their meeting. Did she cry? Did she assure him she would stop the standup and proceed professionally? I get that you like her, but is championing her and working against your manager the way you want to go about this, especially without speaking to him about his objective?

        1. Myrin*

          Huh? Where does it say anything about OP’s working against her manager or undermining him? (Especially since, as you say yourself, it doesn’t sound like OP has even had a talk with about all of this yet, other than the brief one where he suggested she become Patricia’s manager.)
          Patricia seems to have recognised OP as someone she can trust and confide in, a mentor-type, maybe, but I’m not seeing any of that turning into her undermining her own manager.

          1. Lance*

            I’m guessing Valentine’s taking OP’s mentioned encouragement as something like ‘(manager)’s wrong, you’re doing great!’ Which, if it is the case… then yeah, that’s bad. But I really feel like the encouragement is probably just as a peer being friendly, not going against the manager’s word.

        2. Batgirl*

          How do you explain that he is deliberately giving a junior projects that need a high level of experience?

          It is possible to know and believe your boss is a jerk in the privacy of your own mind without doing anything improper or unprofessional.

        3. Original OP*

          It certainly isn’t my goal (to undermine the manager). I do believe she was catastrophizing with the “nobody likes you” comments but I mostly just said “I’m sorry you’re going through this, etc, etc” without saying anything about whether the manager was right or wrong. Since many of these incidents, our manager has spoken to me on several occasions about mentoring Patricia and helping her learn this skill or that skill. She and I have weekly check-ins and I give her assignments from my pile that are within her skill set. Unfortunately, our manager also gives her assignments but fully admitted to me that he gave her difficult assignments in order to “test” how she would do under pressure.

    1. Bostonian*

      Oh no! This sounds horrible. It sounds like your manager is setting her up to fail. I wonder if it was someone higher up complained to your boss. Please update us!

      1. WellRed*

        Yeah, it’s almost like Patricia put a target on her own head and is now being managed out.

        1. motherofdragons*

          It would be pretty harsh to immediately start managing her out after one discussion about her “jokes.” And if she joked about or said something truly outrageous, why wasn’t she fired on the spot rather than being set up to fail?

          1. Lucille2*

            I agree it’s pretty harsh, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Especially where the manager is giving Patricia projects way beyond her capabilities. They probably couldn’t fire her on the spot for the first conversation about her attitude. My mind went here as well unfortunately since I have known managers to use PIP’s as a way to set people up to fail. I wonder if Patricia offended the wrong person and now she’s on her way out.

            1. IndoorCat*

              That’s my guess as well. Even if she’s work-at-will, the company may have a policy about what is grounds for immediate firing and what isn’t. If company policy is that inappropriate jokes are only grounds for a PIP, not firing, but she really offended a higher up person (CEO she made the cat / kids “joke” to?) I can see a manager wanting to follow the letter of the law but not the spirit by implementing a PIP in a way that doesn’t legitimately give her another chance.

          2. Mockingdragon*

            It would be pretty harsh. I’m projecting like crazy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Patricia had acted out of anxiety (cried, panicked, argued, etc.) after the conversation and that reaction was what drove the manager’s quest to get rid of her =/

        2. Original OP*

          I agree that this seems to be our manager’s goal. He’s mentioned this in not so many words to me during our weekly check ins. Not my place to offer my opinion on the matter but I have offered suggestions for projects she could do well at as well as mentioned things she’s doing right.

    2. Amber Rose*

      She probably wants to discuss being bullied, since that’s what I would normally call being given assignments outside of my ability and then given shit for not being able to do them. :/

      1. PM Jesper Berg*

        Precisely. The manager *is* acting like a jerk. And I’m betting that may not be new, and may have been a reason why Patricia was joking so much to begin with. A good way to disarm toxic people is with humor.

        (Cf. “The Trouble With Tribbles” in Star Trek, where some officious bureaucrat accuses Captain Kirk of “taking this situation lightly,” and Kirk retorts, “I take this situation with the utmost seriousness. It’s you I take lightly.”)

        So in short, this information sheds a different light on things.

    3. Myrin*

      Oh my, what a shitty development.
      If it helps any, OP, you’re handling this situation really well and have been nothing but a kind, helpful, and direct mentor.
      I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the meeting, whatever it might be about.

    4. Cloudy with sunny breaks*

      Oooo this sucks! I sending positive internet thoughts to Patricia. Let us know how it goes

    5. Elemeno P.*

      That’s rough. I commented above that it sounded like she developed jokes as a way to get people to like her and would be upset that her intentions had the opposite effect, and it looks like that’s the case. Thanks for treating her tactfully, OP!

      1. Stephanie*

        Yeah, I’ve been guilty of this (and similar behavior). I had to do a lot of work (including discussing it some with a therapist) about how to unlearn that behavior.

        1. Elemeno P.*

          I think it’s a pretty common coping strategy. It is interesting to see the comments saying that Patricia must think she’s smarter than everyone else and just likes being an edgelord, when the OP describes her as someone who is anxious (and does this more when she’s nervous). Similar comments come up in a lot of conversations about humor on this site for some reason.

          1. IndoorCat*

            It might be a “once bitten, twice shy” kind-of thing with jokes? I know that I personally have been the butt of jokes that were intentionally put-downs, but said in a way that were hard to challenge at the time. Or mean-spirited jokes that took me a minute to get and then really hurt my feelings. But I couldn’t speak back against them at the time; either I lacked the social skills and self-esteem to do so, or I was in a context where the mean-joker was pretty popular and I was new.

            Some of this was in adolecense, and a lot of embarrassing things that happen as a young teenager stick with you.

            So, at any rate, for me, now that I have practiced standing up for myself, have more self-respect, and better social skills, I know I have an instinct to not make the same mistake again (i.e. let people treat me like a joke or a doormat) due to my own past experiences. That is, I have self-respect now, but I’m aware of its fragility and I’m very motivated to protect it. So any kind of joke that might be making fun of my shortcomings (whether it’s gullibility, in this case, or in other circumstances my ignorance / my appearance / my quirks) I know I personally tend to jump in to defend myself, even if it isn’t always warranted.

            In some ways, like Patricia, I know I’m a bit thin-skinned. But, unlike Patricia, I don’t joke around at work, and I tend to be quiet and polite in meetings (and, hopefully, warm and approachable in one-on-one interactions). I also make a point of complimenting someone when they do something well, or thanking them for helping out with something, which so far has worked to offset a potential reputation for being oversensitive.

    6. Mockingbird*

      It seems clear that the manager has decided Patricia isn’t going to work out, and he’s trying to get her to quit or make the case for her to be terminated for cause. I’m not sure there’s any really feasible way to walk it back when a relationship with your manager gets to that point.

      Please update us when you can!

      1. C*

        That was my read, as well. I hope she can find something that’s a better fit for her, because even if the boss backs off, she’s going to be on eggshells from here on out.

    7. PB*

      Wow, this is awful. Your manager basically pulled out a machete to deal with a mosquito. Patricia needed to be told to cut it out, yes, but she very much does not deserve this. Poor kid. I’m glad you had a good talk with her before that, and I hope the meeting this afternoon is productive, in some way. Good luck.

      1. StressedButOkay*

        +1 to this – this is an overreaction on his part. Managing the problems that Patricia is having is one thing, this seems like he’s setting her up for failure as a punishment. I hope the talk later today goes well!

    8. JJ Bittenbinder*

      You are a very kind person, OP.

      I feel like there’s so much going on between the manager and Patricia, and between Patricia and the company, and I feel like the humor is a bit of a red herring.

      That said, definitely protect yourself and your interests during all this. You’re doing everyone a kindness, but you don’t need to set yourself on fire to keep others warm

      1. BookishMiss*

        “you don’t need to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.”
        This is brilliant. I’m pocketing it as a self-reminder and for others.

      2. MatKnifeNinja*

        I think there is a whole back story that you didn’t get to hear.

        Depression and anxiety is a beast. When you are upset, you hear about 1/3 to 1/2 of what’s being said. So hearing, “You can’t joke around” is heard as “everyone hates my guts”.

        Who knows who else she ran her mouth to, and it all came crashing down on this manager’s head. I wonder how high up the someone is that complained.

        I find it really unusual that manager would do all this, especially when the person is a long term employee’s kid. She’s sort of low hanging fruit. I wonder who complained she isn’t being used to her full potential, so now the manager has to double down on using her.

        Sort of my kid is a rock star, so why is she making copies and answering the phone?

        What a mess. Watch your back too.

        1. Luna*

          One doesn’t need to suffer from depression/anxiety to not hear, and understand, every word they are told.

    9. spek*

      Wow. This is so depressing. “Oh no! We have a young worker here with a unique and interesting personality! Let’s stifle and subdue her as soon as possible, because the rest of the corporate zombies don’t get her.”
      I wish I had a Patricia in my office.
      Office culture stinks sometimes.

      1. valentine*

        It’s not that cut-and-dried. It’s behavior, not personality. They could possibly ignore a five-second joke, but five minutes is a ridiculous waste of time.

      2. StressedButOkay*

        You can be unique and interesting without derailing conversations and meetings constantly. It’s not about stifling that personality, it’s about teaching her when and where it’s appropriate to show that humor. A sarcastic back and forth in the kitchen as we grab lunches is totally different than a 5 minute back and forth on a joke in a meeting.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s upsetting that Patricia is being treated poorly and not managed correctly however offensive jokes aren’t an “interesting personality” it’s obnoxious as best and enraging at most. I mean you can go ahead and hoard all these kinds of joke tellers into your office, most of us won’t mind or miss them in that sense.

      4. Oh So Anon*

        I’m a Millennial, and even so I expect Patricias to rein it in and pay their dues, even if it means being as bland as possible while they get their work done.

        Having a “unique and interesting personality” at work is one of those things that costs a fair bit of political and social capital. And Patricia kind of has neither right now.

    10. Knork*

      Oh, that’s a bummer. :(

      Sadly, when your reputation/relationships are so solidified–in a bad way–in less than a year, and the quality of your work is not, it’s very, very hard to bounce back.

      In her shoes, I would genuinely consider starting fresh somewhere else.

    11. Lance*

      Oh lord, good luck to her. As much as the two examples of jokes you gave were… not great, this is far, far, far from the realm of anything that any reasonable person could think might ‘help’. Your manager sounds awful, but kudos to you for at least going in with examples of her good work and suggestions, even if he’s not taking them.

    12. Hills to Die on*

      It sounds like he is trying to push her out, and I wonder if it’s because he is so hands-off that he wants her gone rather than having to manage her. Very unfortunate. I hope she lands on her feet.

    13. BRR*

      Ugh. You’re awesome for supporting her while your manager is tormenting her. This absolutely sucks that it’s happening to her. What could have been a mild correction in your original letter is now a dumpster fire.

    14. BethRA*

      Gah! I hate it when managers go from trying to ignore something to completely over-reacting.

      Thanks for the update, and keep us posted!

    15. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That’s awful, her manager needs to be retrained or removed from managing others if he thinks it’s appropriate to treat her like that, just yikes.

      I’m glad she’s having a meeting with an executive and hope that things get settled, nobody should be put in that situation just because they have a confusing sense of humor. Especially since she took the correction well when it’s delivered in a way that was in her best interest, not just overly authoritative nonsense.

    16. matcha123*

      It sounds like her manager took the “Oh, you think you’re funny? Let me show you something funny” route.
      If she’s been around people in school or her private life who get her humor, it’s probably hard for her to gauge what other people find funny. Especially if she’s online a lot. The humor between my friends who look at memes and reddit is completely different from friends who mostly avoid the internet.

    17. AngryOwl*

      You are a kind person. I’m sorry your manager does not appear to be. Good luck with all of this!

    18. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      “she was basically told to quit joking entirely and that nobody likes her”
      That sounds like juvenile histrionics.
      “He seems to have decided to work on “mentoring” her by giving her assignments way beyond her capabilities and then chastising her when the results aren’t perfect.”
      That sounds like a problem.
      “he went back on his offer and has doubled-down on his efforts to train her”
      That sounds like someone writing on the wall.
      So I guess I was wrong and the manager did tell her in the worst possible way, the worst possible things and is now mistreating her for them. (I wonder if the C-suite recipient of the cat story criticized him about the conversation because he’s acting personal about this.)

    19. The Tin Man*

      That’s awful. In what seems like it could have been a situation that needed a light touch to make everyone happy her manager came in with a sledgehammer.

      Manager is probably usually hands-off because he doesn’t know how to actually manage.

      1. The Tin Man*

        And quite possibly the manager resents her for someone bringing this to his attention and making him, y’know, actually manage.

      2. valentine*

        There was no need to make Patricia happy or to bestow a light touch when she’s been pulling this crap for months.

        1. The Tin Man*

          To be clear about my stance, Patricia’s behavior was not at all appropriate and her happiness and comfort should not be put about having a functional workplace. What I see happening from OP’s update is that she is miserable and the workplace is LESS functional than before. That benefits nobody. If OP’s conversation with Patricia was enough to help her be more self-aware and to self-correct her behavior that light touch would 100% be the best course of action. It lacks a sense of “justice” because it may seem like she is being coddled but I think the ends would have justified the means here.

          There is a need to employ a light touch when that is what would make a situation better. Being heavy-handed (and in ways unconnected to the problem behavior) is just making nobody happy. Speaking of which…

          Can you explain “There was no need to make Patricia happy”? I’ll be generous and admit you probably meant something like “Her feelings are not the priority, a functioning workplace is the priority” but the situation now is not a functioning workplace. My initial read of your comment was that you are saying she should be punished instead of coached and that it is better for Patricia be miserable than to have her self-correct and end up in a situation where everyone is happy.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Agreeing with The Tin Man, Patricia’s “jokes” were far, FAR less than ideal, but they appear to come from a place of awkwardness rather than a place of maliciousness. If all you want is for the awkward, derailing behavior to stop, a light touch is the perfect first step. OP’s update makes it sound like the light touch would have worked out just fine in the end, and Patricia would have learned a valuable soft skill that would serve her well throughout her career. Now, what she’s learning is that sometimes managers are jerks and bullies who want to punish you for not knowing stuff. The sledgehammer approach is helping no one.

        3. Batgirl*

          Pulling no punches while giving actual feedback? Fine. Short. To the point.

          Bullying tactics and pushing someone out by burying them in Herculean tasks? Cowardly. Drawn Out. Needlessly cruel.

    20. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Agreeing with others, that’s awful. Patricia sounds awkward and earnest, and responding to awkwardness by clearly trying to force her out is completely disproportionate — not to mention that even if her behavior were somehow actionable, that’s bloody well not how you do it! Patricia needs to step up her interpersonal game, but her manager needs much more than that.

    21. NotSoNewMom*

      Your manager is a jerk, but my guess is Patricia has already burned bridges with a lot of the people she interacts with. Given everything, her best bet is likely to start over somewhere else.

      1. The Tin Man*

        I agree with that, but it definitely would have been better for her to get the chance to self-correct her behavior and then leave for a new role where she can have a reputational clean slate than be driven out.

        1. Viki*

          I think it depends on a few variables. How long have the complaints been going on verse before the talk was, as well as how good her work is and how much impact people avoiding working with her has on projects. Another factor would be the breastfeeding comment and if there are more comments like that.

          Because sometimes you just don’t get to self correct when you’ve burnt every bridge enough or you cross a line.

          1. The Tin Man*

            Fair point. In my comments here I have been reflecting more on the derailing “my kids are cats” non-joke instead of the offensive breastfeeding one.

            1. Viki*

              Fair enough. The cat joke is a non issue; breastfeeding comment and more of those , if there are some are kind of one strike you’re out for me.

              In the most charitable reading, you’re confusing everyone and putting everyone in very awkward position. In others-the one I read it as-you’re insulting a coworker as slower or whatever it happens to be. The point is there’s nothing positive about the connotations through the phrase as she said it. You can’t insult coworkers and expect there not to be consequences.

              And if I was the manager and I have seven or eight people telling me she said this, it made them feel uncomfortable and I notice that workflow is disrupted because of this and the comments continue as OP mentions they do when Patricia’s nervous…well thin ice and easy enough for me to think this is not the fit.

    22. Akcipitrokulo*

      Oh, that must be so shit for her!

      I am inclined to take the “nobody likes me” woth a pinch of salt – or briefly mention something positive you’d noticed – but the rest of it is so unfair and not helping at all.

      Saying “knock that off” was reasonable. Hounding her isn’t.

      I hope it works out for her!

    23. Meredith*

      Awww, poor kid. I remember myself at her age (I’m 37 now) and God knows I struggled to find my footing at my first office job. I would bet most other people did too. Unless someone is truly an awful person or truly awful at their job, they should be given the chance to fix their issues after it’s been brought to their attention rather than set up for failure, which it sound like the manager is doing. That such a cruel thing to do to anyone but especially someone just starting out.

    24. Jan*

      Poor Patricia! She’s just awkward, not malicious, and she doesn’t deserve the way your boss is treating her.

      When you say “I didn’t bring it up with our manager, but someone else did”, do you mean the fact you’d spoken to Patricia? Because if he knew she’d been spoken to ALREADY, I think he was a complete bastard to bring it up again, and in such a mean way. Unfortunately, he sounds like someone who holds grudges and looks for reasons to be offended, and Patricia seems his ideal target.

    25. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Oh, man. I’m so sad to read this. Your manager is doing the supervisory equivalent of using napalm to take care of a pimple. You’ve been so kind to keep encouraging her through this process. Please be sure to send in an update, we’d love to know how all of this shakes out.

  15. StressedButOkay*

    If I had to spend a certain amount of time trying to decipher what a coworker was saying because they’re known to spend 5 or more minutes saying convoluted/untrue things in the name of a joke, that’s exhausting. Especially if she’s known to do it so often that it seems every time people come to her she’s derailing the conversation with the off the wall humor.

    I think it’s less that people can’t trust what she says and more that it’s now known you can’t go to her for a simple, quick task – you’re having to spend more time dealing with her than dealing with the task at hand.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, if every time you ask her a simple question like ‘Patricia, did you order supplies for the photocopier?’ she responds deadpan with something like ‘Oh yeah, ha, no. I hate that machine, I want to watch it starve and die’, it means you then just have to waste time going ‘OK…but seriously, DID you order the supplies? I actually do need to know when they’ll be arriving…’. Which is going to get very old and tiring very quickly. She doesn’t have to erase her sense of humour, but she does have to understand that when she’s at work, being clear and polite and helpful is her top priority.

      1. Original OP*

        That was pretty much how it would go. She’s toned that down significantly but still does it every now and then.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          OMG, if someone had been doing that to me and then understood not to do it well enough to mostly stop, but *still occasionally do it*, I would be pissed off whenever she did. It’s almost worse than if she had never toned it down in the first place! Either she gets that it’s inappropriate at work or she doesn’t.

      2. Ethyl*

        Yuppp I worked with a guy just like this and it was so, so frustrating. Every. Single. Interaction took forever, and every time I had to talk with him about anything, I was preemptively angry. And, not to mention, that stuff did wind up getting screwed up or missed because he couldn’t just answer a danged question. Woo boy this post brought back some memories.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah, and unfortunately, if it’s coming out of anxiety/a desire to be liked, it has a really high tendency to spiral. I say “Is the report ready?” and you say “[thing that I can’t tell if it’s a joke or not]” and I know that it might be a joke and also that you might not let me know that it’s a joke until I’ve wasted several minutes, so I say, “I really need to know, please don’t kid around,” and even if I’m kind about it you hear the frustration in my voice and get extra anxious that I don’t like you, so next time you try extra hard to be likable… which comes across as another awkward joke, and I get even more frustrated, and it goes nowhere good. (And if it’s thirty seconds of awkward joke, okay, not great but whatever, but five minutes is kind of yikes.) I’ve seen this terminate in one person desperately and constantly playing class clown while everyone else rolls their eyes and avoids them, and it’s just… bad news.

      The hard part is that if this kind of humor is a defense mechanism, it’s a hard cycle to break. Other kinds of defense mechanisms may be annoying (I get super! cheerful!, sorry to say), but at least don’t hinder the ability to get work done… and don’t have the unfortunately possible side effect of accidentally insulting someone… a joke that falls flat can sometimes come across as meanness or an insult. And unfortunately, sometimes when you have done this enough, you have accidentally come across as obstructive and/or mean that everyone else’s patience is already worn away. I hope Patricia can take this to heart and start repairing the possible damage.

  16. annakarina1*

    Patricia’s humor sounds like she’s the April Ludgate of Parks & Recreation of the office. That humor can be funny, but in small doses, or at least delivered with good timing and not just being a jerk.

    1. Stephanie*

      It can be, but it has to be more on the mild side and deployed effectively…which is hard in an office.

    2. fposte*

      I was thinking that the breastfed remark seemed very sitcommy, so she may be inspired by April and her ilk.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        You know, it really does? Both examples (the insult humor about the person who put together the report, and the long gag where the joke is ‘you couldn’t figure out what was going on because I was being obscure’ and it drags out for five minutes as if awaiting a laugh track) are sitcommy in a way that can sometimes take a bit of experience and maturity to realize isn’t funny in real life. Like the way that I can find slapstick funny when I’m watching old movies but would be genuinely distraught to observe IRL.

        Especially since in sitcoms, the people who make insult-jokes or long “haha gotcha” gags tend to be the life of the party, whereas IRL people mostly avoid them because nobody wants to be the butt of either of those jokes.

        1. fposte*

          I can see this with the rest of what the OP says, too–this is an anxious person who uses what seems successful, funny, and confident in media as a model. Unfortunately, that’s not a good plan at the best of times–the mode just doesn’t transfer well.

    3. Ethyl*

      It’s funny you mention that because on my most recent rewatch, I actually really started to hate April. I’ve worked with people like that and it really kinda sucks. Leslie had way more patience than I would have had!

      1. EH*

        I think part of the point is that April is a terrible employee, at least early on. That’s why Ron makes her his assistant – he wants to gum up the government’s wheels and slow efficiency. Later on, she becomes a good employee who actually cares about her work, to his dismay. :)

        1. Ethyl*

          I want, I GET what the joke is supposed to be, I just don’t think it’s that funny. Especially since she never lets up with the attitude and sarcastic outlandish responses to things even as we watch her supposedly mature and find her calling and everything. Leslie is over there trying to be supportive and help her, gives her a job at National Parks, has her in meetings with senators, and gets her involved with that group that helps young adults get jobs, and April is still making shitty snide comments about being an alien or whatever. It’s not funny by season 4 and even less funny by the end.

          1. I Took A Mint*

            To be fair, I think the point of Parks & Rec (and the Office, etc.) is that everyone, in their own way, is a terrible employee. April is sarcastic and moody, Leslie crosses boundaries and overworks, Ron is grumpy and actively sabotaging the department, etc. etc. A reasonable manager would have grounds to fire any/all of them.

          2. IndoorCat*

            I love April as a character, but I don’t think there’s anyone in that office I’d actually like as a co-worker. *Maybe* Ben Wyatt. Probably if I lived in Pawnee I’d just work at the hospital with Ann Perkins and watch all the antics from afar.

            I do think if you know someone like that irl, it’s less funny to watch. There’s an element of “safe/danger” that makes jokes funny, and jokes fail if they’re too safe (puns, for example) or too “dangerous”– in this case, April’s ironic nihilism hitting too close to home. I have friends who can’t watch ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ for this reason. To me, it’s hilarious in a farcical way, but for people who’ve really dealt with an obsessive pathological liar, it’s less “farce” and more “making light of a serious problem,” musical numbers notwithstanding.

      2. Washi*

        Yeah, April is funny to watch but she’s a terrible coworker and probably should have been fired after a few weeks in real life.

  17. Original OP*

    The sarcasm had died down significantly although I do notice it creep back in when she’s really nervous.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That makes sense, nerves can make people ramble nonsensically at times. Hopefully she feels comfortable in her own skin and environment with more time on the job, then she won’t have these issues.

  18. BigSigh*

    I was literally just given the same feedback about my humor being so dry that people can’t tell if I’m joking. And you know what, it’s not the first time I’ve gotten that feedback. She needs to hear it and she’ll probably hear it again later in life.

    Does anyone actually laugh at her “jokes?” I’ve checked in with certain co-workers and honestly it’s pretty easy to tell who thinks my humor is funny and who I should lay off around.

    It’s rough that she’s a sensitive soul, but tiptoeing around the matter won’t help her. Being blunt makes it quicker. “Hey, that joke in the meeting with Brad today landed wrong, as I’m sure you could tell, right? It was long and distracting. Can you reel it in a bit? People aren’t understanding your humor and I don’t want it to impact your working relationships here. Thank you. Let me know if you’ve any questions.”

  19. StaceyIzMe*

    I think that this is a case of “it’s better to be direct because this is an issue that matters”. Putting the focus on managing her feelings for her might seem kind. In reality, however, she’s not doing herself any favors when she spends five minutes joking with a C suite person about cats. (!) The fact that she has anxiety or is a daughter of a long time employee shouldn’t do more than inform you that a little extra care might be needed. But- this is her manager’s job to manage and you should refer the problem to him or her to deal with. (Because- it’s impacting your team’s desire and the desire of others to work with her, it’s wasting time in settings where clarity and trust are needed to get work done and it may lower the standing of her team/ department somewhat if she is in an internal or external client facing role.) You should bow out of the “I’ve got something to tell you” role and take on the “I’ve got something to refer to her manager because…” role. If she reaches out to you later for feedback to confirm what her manager is saying, THEN you can provide some examples, some comfort if appropriate and some advice.

  20. TootsNYC*

    They are coming to you with things that should be going to her. That happened to me once, but the guy they were avoiding would blow up and throw his stapler at his desk–never when anyone was there, but still…

    That gives you standing, and a framework.

    State the problem, and point out how important it is that communication come through the right channels. She needs this info directly from them, and it’s inefficient. And it is going to make her weaker.

    The tricky part comes when you say, “I’m pretty sure that people are avoiding the jokes–it slows things down, and it’s often awkward because people don’t know how to respond. Maybe you should save the jokey-ness for after work or outside the office.
    “I could be wrong–you might try carefully watching people’s reactions and see if you identify anything else that you can tweak to make communication easier for people.”

  21. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    These aren’t even humorous, they’re just odd and awkward, the breastfeeding comment is actually pretty offensive, what does that even mean? It’s fitting that she’s super sensitive about things but says nonsense like that.

    I wouldn’t bother talking to her personally, that’s too much emotional roller coaster for my liking but I would let others know that pointing out her humor is falling flat with them got her to stop pulling those jokes around you, so they can follow suit.

    1. Luna*

      I suppose the breastfeeding comment is in line with the idea of ‘was dropped on their head as a baby’ or ‘bathed in too hot water’?

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah reading through the comments, I can see where the joke is if you squint! It just sounds rude and unnecessarily derogatory.

        Then again I’m simply not a fan of “Were you dropped on your head as a kid” jokes either. Brain damage isn’t funny.

        There are other less extreme ways to say that that are actually humorous without being so unkind.

  22. Moose*

    It’s totally inappropriate at work, and definitely too mean-spirited…but I have to admit that I snorted when I read “must have been breastfed too long as a child.”

  23. Sylvan*

    I thought this would be dark or “edgy” or accidentally too incisive humor, but instead… Hmm. Strange things to say.

    Alison’s advice is good. Could you encourage her to think about modeling how she wants other people to talk to her? That is, if she doesn’t like being made fun of or hearing a lot of sarcasm (if), she could demonstrate that by not making fun of people or being sarcastic.

    As an example, I’m a pretty sensitive person. I used to think being incisive or negative was clever. By making harsh jokes, I was demonstrating that I might like being talked to like that.

    If she would tone down the sarcasm and strange comments, maybe she would find other people being kinder to her.

    1. Arctic*

      The comments, especially the kids/cats one, seems like a classic social anxiety thing. When you don’t know what to say and you end up on a long odd tangent. (This isn’t diagnosing the OP mentions she has this issue.)

      “If she would tone down the sarcasm and strange comments, maybe she would find other people being kinder to her.”
      Sure, but that’s a double edged sword. If you are anxious knowing your comments that are a symptom of your anxiety make people dislike you will only make you more socially anxious.

      1. Sylvan*

        Yeah, it makes sense that she could feel self-conscious, make more jokes, feel more self-conscious, and so on, although I hope that wouldn’t happen. I was thinking of appealing to what I assume she wants, which is to get along with coworkers and be treated the way she wants to be treated.

    2. Anonymoose*

      Years ago, when I was doing an internship in law school, I had a supervisor who took me aside and said “I know you crack self deprecating jokes as a coping mechanism against anxiety but this can harm you professionally in the long run.” I still do now and then, but mostly with coworkers that knows me really well. Looking back that was very nice of her to tell me this.

      (Although I found it funny that 3 years later I’m working in a law firm culture where everyone has a very dark sense of humor. )

    3. Mary Richards*

      Yeah, my first thought when reading the examples in the letter was not “Patricia is snarky,” but rather, “Patricia is nervous and doesn’t quite know how to joke in an office setting.”

      For the record, I’m pretty snarky, and well-placed sarcasm can work well and lighten a mood—IF the audience is comfortable with that and the comment(s) is/are appropriate for the situation/brief.

  24. LH Holdings*

    I always find it very interesting that people who often say incredibly offensive things are “very sensitive.” Are they really sensitive or are they portraying themselves as such so that people have to tiptoe around them and not address the real issue? Aside from that, Patricia needs to be told that how she in interacting with others is not working. You absolutely have standing to address this since people do not want to deal with her and are coming to you instead. You don’t want this to turn into a “broken stair” situation that never gets resolved. The fact that she is related to a long-time employee is a bit of a red herring because I highly doubt that they would interfere in this situation. But in the unlikely case that the long-term employee is willing to put their job on the line for Patricia, the company shouldn’t treat it any differently.

    1. Aurion*

      As a reformed Patricia, I absolutely was very sensitive underneath the sarcasm, because I didn’t have a good self-esteem and the wisecracking was like…armour, basically. I couldn’t read the room to save my life so I was hoping to hell that witty one-liners would break the tension and save me from the abyss that was, dear lord, socializing which required social skills I sorely lacked. Of course, when I inevitably put my foot in my mouth it was a catastrophe, because I just wanted to be funny and oh god I can’t even do this right, etc etc.

      I am naturally very observant, in the sense I’d definitely notice if someone got new glasses or new shoes or a haircut or whatever. I just didn’t link visual cues like side-eyes or awkward expressions to a person’s given comfort level at whatever awkward conversation I was holding hostage, nor did I understand (at the time) the importance of social skills and socializing. Learning social skills was a project, let me tell you.

    2. Sylvan*

      It’s weird, right? I’ve been sarcastic when I couldn’t stand a taste of my own medicine. I still don’t totally have an explanation for it. Maybe it’s defensive.

      When this kind of aggressive/hypersensitive behavior’s really extreme, the internet calls the person a “covert narcissist,” which is an interesting idea to read about. If you know someone who’s like this – not Patricia, who is not extreme and whom I don’t care to diagnose with anything – it might explain some things.

    3. Arctic*

      The breastmilk comment aside, which I get is quite offensive but I think was more likely a pop culture reference gone bad although either way was a terrible joke, I don’t get the impression Patricia is saying a ton of really offensive things. Just really weird, awkward things. And taking too much time to say them, at that.
      When people complain about sarcasm it’s usually when people use sarcasm as a veil to be rude and nasty about other people. I don’t get the feeling Patricia is doing that.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        It’s interesting, I know we only have the two examples but they totally sound like someone who watched a standup routine or read a funny blog post and thought the lines were funny enough to deploy when a situation even kind of presented itself. I mean, they kind of sound like something she’s attempting as humor rather than being her own thing. The cat situation went on too long to be anything but an intended setup and push to get to the punchline, and the breastfed comment sounds like something that was workshopped before put into use, you know?

        It just reminds me strongly of one of my college friends who was forever quoting this or that pop culture show/movie instead of participating in a real conversation. I think he thought it made him the Funny One but after a while it was just met with a group pained sigh.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          I must say, I’d rather hear the occasional “it’s just a flesh wound!” or “Inconceivable!” than an extended discourse about someone’s kids that turn out to be cats.

  25. AKchic*

    Yikes. This is someone who doesn’t understand humor and may be using their parent’s position as a safety net (maybe unintentionally, but still).

    LW, I don’t think you have the standing to talk to Patricia. She may not be “joking” with you anymore, but that’s only because she’s figured out that her “jokes” aren’t landing with you and you aren’t a good person to joke with. To her, you aren’t fun.
    Her sense of humor doesn’t “border on the inappropriate”, it IS inappropriate. Making a breastfeeding comment like that is completely out of line, regardless of if she meant it as a lighthearted joke, or if she meant it as a snarky put-down. The fact that people can’t tell when she’s joking and aren’t appreciative of her “humor” is another reason for management to shut her down.
    Being open about her depression/anxiety adds a certain layer that I am loathe to bring up, but: in for a penny, in for a pound – she may be using her mental health diagnoses as an excuse to say some inappropriate things, or she may be saying inappropriate things because of the anxiety. I know I say some things in my anxiety panic (it’s rare, but it does happen). However, that’s not anyone’s concern but hers. This whole conversation is for HR or a manager to discuss with her.

  26. anon for always*

    Ok, does anyone have any tips for how Patricia can do this? I ask on my own behalf. I’ve been told I can come across as abrasive, brutally honest, and too sarcastic (and, similarly, that my sense of humor does not always land appropriately – something my manager said). It doesn’t help that I don’t always have a lot of patience; I think part of my problem is that I expect a lot from my coworkers and I get frustrated when they’re not up for the task. Case in point, I’m very frustrated with a coworker right now because she has such bad anxiety that she’s outright said she can’t handle anything complicated. She just shuts down, or gets so frustrated she cries. That puts pressure back on me because I can’t hand off things I want to, which I should be able to do (hopefully this is helpful context).

    Obviously this is something I need to work on, but I’m not really sure how. Sometimes it just seems like I have no brain-to-mouth filter, and I’ve recently realized that maybe I have a more difficult time reading people/moods/a room than I thought I did. So, any suggestions?

    1. valentine*

      Repost in the open thread?

      Talk to your manager (unless they told you you’re stuck when they should be telling her to buckle down and cry elsewhere). Hand the stuff off and, when you update your manager, say you’re waiting for her piece. You can absolutely filter. You are choosing not to.

      1. A Nonny Nonny*

        Yes, please do repost this in the open thread on Friday, anon for always — I’d love to see a discussion on this topic.

    2. fposte*

      This may seem to be a weird question, but what do you consider communication to be for?

      Right now it sounds like you might be using it to express your thoughts rather than to achieve a goal. I think of workplace communication as a privilege that brings obligation–it has to earn its air time. Is the comment you want to make useful? Is it actionable? Will it help or enhance people around you? If not, can you justify why it’s being shared with anybody other than you? That doesn’t mean it always has to be positive, or you have to pretend that nothing ever frustrates you. But focus on the outcome–will expressing your frustration enhance your relationship with this person and make it likelier you get what you want as a result?

      I mean, your co-worker sounds frustrating, and it could be that your manager is underassisting when it comes to this problem–this is something that she should be negotiating and not just leaving to you. But clearly being sharp and frustrated with your co-worker is going to make the problem worse and slow work down further, in addition to supporting part of your rep that you’re trying to mitigate. What you’d get in return is the momentary pleasure of venting–but that won’t keep you from needing to vent again when the next frustration comes up.

    3. WellRed*

      Pause, deliberately, before you speak. What’s that saying? Is it kind? Is it helpful? If it’s not, don’t say it.
      It’s like the verbal version of writing a letter to your ex about what a jerk he was and then tearing up it instead of sending it.

      1. Mr. Tyzik*

        Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it needful? Is it kind?

        I remember it as THiNK, but without anything for “i”.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I’ve heard “interesting” for the I, but that’s pretty subjective.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Make yourself stop and think before speaking, purposely filter yourself, even if it feels unnatural to you, it’s worth that split second where you think before you just stuff your foot right into your mouth.

      Also work on finding your chill because it’s not going to make you a happy person in the long run to have excessively high standards for everyone, nobody can reach those bars, even if you are able to, most humans just fall a little short and that’s okay. I get it, my standards for myself are outrageous and I have had to soften myself towards others, if only by turning it into an understanding that people have flaws and limits that I’m often unaware of.

      However someone who can’t handle anything complicated shouldn’t be working that job anymore but you’re just a coworker, so therefore you just have to accept that you have no backup. The best idea in that sense is to seriously leave because screw being in a situation where you’re so heavily leaned on because they are keeping dead weight around who can only handle the easy stuff.

    5. Aurion*

      As mentioned, I’m a reformed Patricia. My solution was to take a hard look at my social shortcomings and go…Machiavellian, I guess?

      I couldn’t read the room (I can observe expressions and such and didn’t know what they meant) so I made a small project of myself to read up on charisma and social skills and expression (geared towards flirting, actually, because that was what I could find, though the broad strokes apply for basic social functionality).

      Basically I decided communication was a means to an end. Some people naturally like chatting to people and/or have kindness as their first instinct and I wasn’t like that (I admire those people though). So if my end goal was to assemble teapots with a minimum of drama and fuss and George was always late with the teapot handles, I noticed that berating George about his constant lateness might momentarily make me feel righteous but doesn’t get me any closer to my end goal. Having a productive/calm conversation about what was holding him up with his teapot handles every week, however, was much more fruitful–and bonus points, he liked me more afterwards. If I wanted people to like me, I noticed my wisecracks weren’t getting me there, so I toned them down and made them infrequent and made a point to ask about other people, and at least look (if not be) interested.

      It’s a very Slytherin/Machiavellian way to approach it. That being said, even if it feels artificial, it sort of got ingrained as habit, and eventually I mellowed out enough to notice that “faking it” was effective as a means to an end, but also wasn’t too bad as a genuine mindset to begin with.

      1. AnonAcademic*

        This does not sound Machiavellian, which would imply you are manipulating others solely for your own gain – it sounds more like “cognitive empathy” in which you logically deduce what type of interaction will lead to what type of response in others. That’s a valid form of social intelligence IMO! And yes, I was not a full Patricia but definitely had some of those tendenceis when younger, and I basically logic’d my way out of it by mimicking people more socially competent than me.

        1. Aurion*

          Well, when I started it was definitely a “means to an end” sort of thing–it was basically “I don’t really care about all these social motions I’m doing nor do I feel that much empathy about people but I noticed going through the motions netted better results and less arguing”, which is definitely a more self-serving way of going about it. It might be lacking the moral apathy of classic Machiavellianism, but it might qualify as mildly manipulative. :) I might still be using the terms wrong though! Psychology isn’t really my thing.

          And I sort of grew into the empathy side later, in the “…huh. Okay, so yeah this works, but it’s also…kinda nice” way, heh. Kindness (still) isn’t my first instinct, but I’m working on it.

    6. BRR*

      I think this touches on multiple things and also recommend you post it in the open thread Friday at 11 am est. For the sarcastic/humor part since that’s tied to the letter, it’s all about restraint to me. I was given feedback about joking too much and basically think of my responses as joke responses or work/informational responses. For me it’s been about reducing the joke responses from X% to Y%. Y% is still ok but there’s a time and place. If your jokes aren’t landing (happens to me often), then you just need to cut them out. Joke telling isn’t mandatory at work.

    7. Genny*

      A few years ago when I was new to the workforce, I found myself apologizing a lot, too much in fact. So I banned myself from apologizing at work so I could get used to be being straightforward/authoritative and learn that being direct isn’t the same as being rude. After a while, when I felt more comfortable with those things, I gradually allowed myself to resume apologizing when the situation warranted it and now I’m able to use it more effectively to smooth over situations rather than using it as a crutch.

      You may be at a similar place where you have to ban yourself from using sarcasm or from being direct (i.e. force yourself to couch your request/comment/complaint in some form of a nicety or softening language). For the high standards thing, ask yourself why you hold others to such high standards and keep asking why to each of your responses until you find out the root cause (and then address said cause).

    8. Mary Richards*

      I have made people cry before (I stand by the fact that it was NOT MY FAULT, though!), and I think the thing I learned from some of my experience is that communication in a work setting is about getting from point A to point B. It is far better to say fewer, more meaningful words that are related to what’s going on than to be the person with a great comeback at someone else’s expense (in an office setting. Having worked in a writer’s room and in production, the same advice doesn’t always apply).

    9. Batgirl*

      Channel someone whose style you admire, like a firm-but-fair mentor. Put on the role like a method actor and see how you do. I think its fun.
      I would also ban sarcasm entirely, at least for a while because it’s a hard habit to break and you should wait until you can use it like salt – in small pinches.

  27. Midlife Tattoos*

    Why is it that the people who are doing unprofessional things are also the people who will cry if you correct them?

    1. Ms. Ann Thropy*

      Lots of people who say they’re very sensitive mean that they are sensitive to their own feelings, not to yours. It’s a way of avoiding being held accountable for jerky behavior.

      1. Batgirl*

        Usually but I think in this situation it’s a combination of ‘I can’t do humour or professionalism with people and that’s mortifying’ (I get that), mixed with ‘I am being hounded to the brink by my boss and I can’t keep my reactions to stress straight; you can have either a facepalm joke or mucho tears.”

    2. FD*

      That’s not really fair. Some people are easy criers. Trust me when I say that a LOT of us absolutely hate that about ourselves and truly, truly don’t want to be! We are mortified by it and aren’t unwilling to listen to correction. We just have a really unfortunate reaction sometimes.

      Because some people also make mistakes in professionalism, it’s inevitable that some people are both easy criers and screw up in professional norms. It just sticks out more when you have that overlap.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        I think there’s a difference between people who cry easily but CAN take feedback and people who use crying as a way to get out of feedback. The discriminator is what they do with the feedback.

        The first group tend to be pretty up front about the tearful reaction and make a point of saying “This happens but I really am listening to what you’re saying”, or if they can’t/don’t express it like that, they’re at least not sulking or storming off or otherwise showing defensiveness and they do make a point of showing that they are incorporating the feedback. They’re also not the ones who are usually pulling unprofessional crap to warrant negative feedback in the first place, although if they are, they do correct the unprofessional things.

        The second group usually has an attitude like “Why are you picking on meeeeee?” and “It’s not faaaaiiiiir” that comes across either explicitly or implicitly, and they as a whole ignore any feedback that is critical. Crying might be a reflex for some, but it can also be one of their tools to manipulate the situation.

  28. Budgie Lover*

    Types of response to humor related questions:

    1. I myself have a dark/dry sense of humor and personally chuckled at both jokes. However, I am definitely one of the good ones and avoid making jokes that would get me in trouble. I am one of the good ones, right?

    2. One of the two jokes was funny/passable while the other certainly was not. Let me explain the difference.

    3. Here is my advice on how to be a better comedian.

    This question reminds me a lot of the other one where someone wrote in asking if they could make gory/violent jokes at the workplace. The employee in this question sounds like she may be very experienced and really benefit from someone telling her directly “Hey, this is not appropriate” even if she doesn’t take it well in the moment.

  29. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    The same principle applies for work and wedding toasts: You’re not as funny as you think you are.

  30. Miss Astoria Platenclear*

    Such a fine line between clever and stupid.

    First “joke” just makes her look like a awkward crazy cat lady, and the second doesn’t even make sense and obviously could cause offense.

    I blurted out some odd comments as a young woman. Hope she can overcome this phase and fit into office norms without being boring It can be done. Thanks for wanting to help her.

  31. Beth*

    Who in the Hades talks like this at work? Are parents, schools, not teaching manners anymore? Saying someone must have been breast fed? Sensitive or not she needs talking to, stat.

  32. Luna*

    As a fellow coworker, I would do similarly what LW has done already. Telling her, “I cannot tell if you are joking or serious”. I already have problems with telling social cues, so it can happen that I miss the ‘obvious’ sarcasm. And I think the line is a good indicator for her to realize that either she’s throwing a joke out at a very inopportune moment or that she needs to work on her ‘sarcastic’ voice.

    ‘course, it’d be much better if she realized herself that sarcasm is not appropriate language while at work, unless you are talking to someone you are on terms with where sarcasm is alright, and it’s preferably just between those few people.

  33. Jake*

    I feel for her because I have a dry sarcastic sense of humor too, but she’s really inappropriate on many levels here.

    1. Dry humor works best when saying something completely unbelievable in a believable way, not just saying something believable that isn’t true.

    2. Breastfeeding jokes like that are too offensive for work.

    3. People with dry humor are at best an acquired taste, so eating up other people’s time with dry humor on a regular basis isn’t good.

    4. Work isn’t the place to show off how witty you are, which is what dry humorists are typically trying to accomplish, myself included.

  34. designbot*

    I would stay away from saying her sarcasm is the problem at all, because it doesn’t sound like it is! It sounds like her problem is focusing on joking around too much to the detriment of time management, and reading the room about when jokes are appropriate and what appropriate topics are. You can joke about say, meeting minutes in a sarcastic way at work all you want and it’ll be fine. You can’t joke about breastfeeding at work, either sarcastically or otherwise, and be confident it’ll land well. I’ve made a “the call is coming from inside the house” joke in front of all my firm’s partners and it went off flawlessly—because it didn’t take five full minutes of back and forth for anyone to piece together what the heck I was talking about.

  35. Former Expat*

    I am Patricia+10 years or so. When I was her age, I felt it wasn’t my fault if another person did not “get” my jokes. It wasn’t my fault if they didn’t have a sense of humor, amiright? I was awful!!! Here is my .02 as someone who now deploys the sarcasm with only my close friends and spouse. Deep down, I believe that most people want to be liked. It is really hard to understand that things I enjoy as an person (sarcasm! dirty jokes! plenty of other types of humor!) can be very off-putting to others. I think that the best thing to do for Patricia is to be direct, with examples. Saying “I don’t know when you’re joking” just reinforces for the people like myself-10 years that the listener is just not smart enough to understand my wit (terrible! I know!). She probably wants to be liked, and needs some very direct guidance on how to do that.

  36. Former Expat*

    My husband pooped himself at work. Fortunately, we live close to the office and he could just come home and change. Unfortunately, when he was walking home he was stopped by the police for suspicious behavior. If my husband could get through that without the officer noticing that he had pooped himself, I think you’re fine! Big hugs, no one noticed.

  37. Original OP*

    Hello Everyone, OP here again…
    Just got out of a meeting with the C-Level and Patricia. This is all neither here-nor-there when it comes to the joking but I believe it gives some background as to where the nervous jokes come from.

    As I mentioned earlier, the original letter was from a few months ago and Patricia seemed to have toned down the jokes and sarcasm significantly since then. She and our manager struggled (he seemed to be setting her up to fail and she cried a lot) for the past few months to make things work. Today, she told me (and has already talked to HR and our boss) that she is going to take some time off to get treatment for her mental health issues (which she has mentioned feed in to her lack of confidence and nervousness at work = more jokes and social awkwardness). She asked me to accompany her on coffee-meeting with our C-Level to tell her about Patricia’s choice to take time off (FMLA). Our C-Level told her (kindly) that she might want to take this time to reflect on whether our field is the best choice for her in the long run (high-stress with lots of criticism) after Patricia admitted that she has a really hard time with critique and feels that if she doesn’t do something “perfectly” the first time, she is crushed and can’t move forward. Patricia has decided she’ll finish out this week and then she’ll take some time off.

    Thank you to everyone’s thoughts and commentary. It was especially helpful to hear from people who have struggled with similar situations and had to curb or find ways to work around their own sense of humor at work. I feel like getting help for mental health is the best choice Patricia can make for herself now–and I sincerely hope that she considers a different career path. Not because I want her to leave, but because she’s struggled so much from the very beginning. Anyway, that’s all for now! Thank you again!

    1. motherofdragons*

      Thanks so much for updating us! I’m hoping the best for Patricia – taking care of herself, learning from her mistakes, and coming back stronger either in this field or another, better fit. And kudos to you for your kindness and overall approach to Patricia here. You mentioned you’d have been glad to be her manager, and from your comments I think you’d have been great at it!

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Thank you for the updates!

      I’m glad she’s going to get herself the help and take care of her health issues. That’s a hard decision to make, especially being so young and new the workforce. I hope that she finds the confidence she needs to thrive, be that in your industry or a new one.

      Now that you said that it’s an industry with a lot of criticism involved, it makes sense why she’s struggling so hard. I know that if I were in that kind of field, I’d have nope-nope-noped right out of there quickly.

    3. starsaphire*

      Thank you for the update, OP! Much appreciated.

      Wishing Patricia all the best of luck with her treatment.

    4. Arts Akimbo*

      Well, now I just want to give Patricia a hug! Good luck to her, and I hope she finds great mental health treatment and the best possible career path for herself.

    5. MatKnifeNinja*

      I’m glad Patricia had enough self awareness to ask for the time off to work on better life path. That is really really hard to do.

      I was thinking about her, and hoping something positive would come her way.

      Sending lots of positive vibes her way… <3

  38. nutella fitzgerald*

    I’ll out myself as a former Patricia. When I was at my first job, in my 20s, and still living with my parents (even doing a similar baby-feeding joke! Mine was appending “my mom says it’s because I was bottle-fed” to apologies for minor mistakes), most of what I knew about professionalism had been gleaned from workplace comedies. When I was coming of age, it was The Office. God bless Patricia if she’s going off of Veep.

    It’s not your responsibility to get it into Patricia’s head that she is not the quirky star of a single-camera sitcom so I wouldn’t blame you for sidestepping the challenge entirely, especially if you have to maintain a working relationship with her mom. I was also very sensitive to criticism, and I think that’s why my more experienced coworkers initially tried to soften their guidance. I got a lot of “I never know if you’re joking or not,” and it was delivered kindly enough that I could misinterpret it as just another Old Person marveling at my sparkling wit just being too young, fresh, and modern for them. Looking back on it, they did me a huge favor by dialing down the gentleness of their responses until I finally understood that they were telling me I needed to change, not them.

    1. pamela voorhees*

      If you’re gonna go off Veep, be sure that the person you channel is Richard.

    2. CM*

      “I got a lot of “I never know if you’re joking or not,” and it was delivered kindly enough that I could misinterpret it as just another Old Person marveling at my sparkling wit just being too young, fresh, and modern for them.”

      Such a great point. Indirect criticism can be misheard as just an observation, or even praise.

  39. Elbe*

    Oof, this hit close to home. My boyfriend has this type of humor and it makes me cringe.

    He’s mentioned on several occasions that his coworkers have told him “I never know if you’re joking or not.” He says it to brag because he thinks it means that his humor is just super advanced. I think he thinks that these people admire his jokes or that it reflects well on him. It’s the opposite, of course. They’re really giving him feedback that what he experiences as funny and entertaining is just confusing and frustrating to everyone else. It is not, at all, a positive thing.

    Two things that I’ve been trying (and probably failing) to get across is:
    1) If you want to make other people laugh, then you need to read the room. You should be making the type of jokes that get a good response, not ones that only produce confusion and exasperation in other people. In these situations, what YOU find funny is not as important as what everyone else finds funny. You shouldn’t be inflicting your humor on people who don’t want it.

    2) The burden to other people needs to be proportionate to the payoff of a joke. If you’re taking up 5 minutes of 20 people’s time during a meeting, that joke better be AMAZING. If you’re interrupting someone to tell it, your joke needs to be ON POINT. Something that may get a chuckle out of someone browsing Twitter while they wait in line at the store isn’t going to get the same response if you’re forcing them to hear it when they’re super busy.

    Some good advice for this young woman would just be to slow down and think before she speaks. Be more respectful of other people’s time and tastes. Being a competent coworker is vastly more important than trying to be a witty or entertaining coworker.

  40. Saucy Minx*

    Sarcasm is not approriate for the workplace, or for any other occasion where the sarker does not know the intended victims well enough to be sure all parties will be amused. I don’t expect or hope to be insulted either at work or when out & about in a social mode. I don’t see how mocking, insulting, or scorning others is humorous.

    From Collins Dictionary:
    Sarcasm is speech or writing which actually means the opposite of what it seems to say. Sarcasm is usually intended to mock or insult someone.
    1. mocking, contemptuous, or ironic language intended to convey scorn or insult
    2. the use or tone of such language

  41. Dwight S.*

    “Patricia is very sensitive and I know she struggles with depression/anxiety (she told me). I have seen her burst into tears over a mild correction in the past.”

    The TLDR here is that Patricia can dish just fine, but she can’t take it.

  42. Rumbakalao*

    I feel like this advice is not quite direct enough to work though. If she’s so clueless that she’ll spend 5 minutes trying to make a joke about cats to an exec, then saying something like “yeah you *might* be annoying and confusing and people might not be able to understand your perfectly good communication style” could very end up going right over her head. I know I myself have been guilty of not really hearing indirect suggestions with multiple interpretations. I think you can try of course, but it might be more effective coming from someone who can tell her directly that she needs to stop.

  43. Dust Bunny*

    OMG Patricia is my dad.

    Please stop this.

    She’s not funny. “Dry and sarcastic” humor too often veers into mean-spirited (and that’s from somebody who leans toward gallows humor herself. But not at work). And joking when everyone needs to get work done is tone-deaf and self-centered at best and infuriating at worst–my father uses this tactic to derail conversations and avoid discussions he doesn’t feel he should have to have, especially when he feels we (my mom, especially) are calling him out on something that he doesn’t agree is a problem. But we would have fewer of those discussions if he focused less on being clever and more on listening, so he’s making it worse. She’s prioritizing her own feelings and “humor” over functioning at work.

  44. Former Employee*

    I’ve never heard of anyone referring to something like this as an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, but I wonder if it is a variation. Someone who thinks they are really good at something such as humor, but no one else thinks so.

    Who would spend any amount of time trying to convince their C-level person that they have children when they don’t and then expecting that said executive is going to find it a real knee-slapper when it turns out you were referring to your cats?

  45. Josie*

    I don’t know how lying can be called ‘humor.’ We had a very scary guy who was like this…SO scary, in fact, the company PAID him to go away. This woman needs to go work on a farm somewhere …away from people.

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