Someone at work makes a disparaging comment without realising it relates to you, what do you do?

OK, that’s a bit of a convulted title, but it’s based on a conversation I was having with some friends on Twitter.

Example one: A guy who is bisexual overhears a workplace conversation describing bisexual men as strange.
Example two: A girl in therapy for anxiety overhears a workplace conversation describing people going to therapy for anxiety as weirdos.

Now, we can all come up with hypotheticals ‘You should say this, you should do that’, but has anyone actually said/done something in a situation like this? How successful was it/wasn’t it?

(Note: I’m really interested in some actual things that people said/did and how it went, not advice on what to do from those who haven’t actually been in that situation.)

It depends. A couple of things I’ve responded to:

“We should just bomb any country that’s ever had terrorists living there” A: “what, getting bombed by terrorists isn’t bad enough for you, you plan on sending the Marines to help them?” Response: stuttering, then embarrasment after someone else pointed that their own country had had terrorists living there, so should they start at home, leave it for last, go in alphabetical order…?

“Bah, any woman who’s over 40 and still unmarried has to be a dyke.” A: “thanks Mom, I’d never realized I prefer taco to sausage.” R: “b-b-b… I didn’t mean you!.. ok, ok, ok, you win!” (yes, she’s stopped making remarks like that one)

Mind you, I only respond if I know the person enough to realize it’s a brainfart/thoughtlessness, rather than actual meanness. I wouldn’t have bothered to respond to someone who really, truly and sincerely believed that the best way to get rid of terrorists is to blanket bomb half the planet.

I’ve heard plenty about “immigrants” coming to take “our jobs”. I quietly offer that I am Canadian - would they like me to return home? Usually this prompts an “OMG we didn;t mean YOU!! We meant, you know, them…”
And sometimes I’ll also ask when their families immigrated to America.

I’ve also spoken up when people are discussing depression and how it’s a fake disease of people who are looking for attention, or making “everybody gets sad, suck it up, don’t take happy pills” comments.

Like with anything, it depends.

Do I already dislike the person and would relish the idea of embarrassing them in front of others?

Do I kinda/sorta agree with them?

How closely do I identify with the group being bashed?

How offensive are their comments?

Two from my childhood…late 60’s, health teacher makes a statement in class that boys who grow up without fathers become “sissies”…boy whose father just died runs from the room in tears.

Six years later, health class again (same teacher, actually, but this time not his fault). Fire chief is guest speaker (and the father of one of our classmates so should have known better) and is giving examples of tragic results of mistakes people make around fire. He describes one situation where a really beautiful woman got horrible burns to one side of her face after squirting charcoal lighter fluid onto an already burning bbq grill. He describes her as a “stupid impatient idiot” and our classmate Linda bursts into tears and runs from the room. That was the moment we found out exactly how Linda’s mom got those awful burns over half of her face. What made it worse was that Linda and the chief’s daughter were friends, and Linda was a dead ringer for her mom.

A few years back, I was out of work and receiving a welfare check in exchange for 30 hours of volunteer work each week. It worked out to less than minimum wage, so I was hardly rolling in it but it kept us afloat for a bit.

Anyway, I finagled myself into the local paper’s copy room as an unpaid intern/volunteer. There was a team of four other (paid) copy editors, and I joined in. The didn’t know that I was there unpaid, or that I was on welfare. Only one of the four was a man, “Joe,” who while nice enough was a bit of a whiner about his finances. I often had to hear about how broke Joe was, when in the next breath he’d talk about his garage full of hobby cars or his family’s upcoming vacation. Now, as you can imagine, hearing this was rather grating for someone who was often choosing between shampoo, toilet paper or new undies for the kids.

Anyway, Joe also made comments pretty regularly about welfare, “bums” and freeloaders who should sink or swim on their own (editing the opinion section often prompted these comments). I only ever said something one time, and it was pretty mild, something about how harsher sanctions on recipients would likely hurt their kids too and should be considered. He harumphed, we moved on.

My true vindication came about a month later when my aid ran out. I loved the job, but I was going to have to move on and let my boss know that. He fired Joe and hired me.

About 15 years ago I worked with a woman who hated gun owners in general but the NRA n particular - not sure why, being in Australia, but there you go. Every damn conversation with her got swung aroung to how terrible gun owners were and how they should not be allowed to work for the government etc etc.

I was a keen shooter at the time but just couldn’t be botherd saying anything, figuring she was doing a good enough job of making herself look like an idiot.

One day during one of her rants she announced that there was no was she could ever work with an NRA member. Seeing my chance I joined up that night over the net (not sure if they still have it but at the time there was an international membership class) and a few weeks later had my membership card.

Next time she was carrying on about how she would refuse to work with anyone from the NRA I quietly slid my membership card accross the table and asked her what day we should plan a farewell party for her.

She stopped for a while but eventually declared me her #1 enemy. Even after both my boss & her boss told her to cut it out she kept it up. I reported her to HR for harrasment & creating a hostile work environment which finally got her to pull her head in.