Whether it’s a gut feeling, a judgemental glance, or a sly comment, it’s easy to snap for seemingly small reason—and then second-guess your reaction. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe they didn’t mean it like that. Maybe I overreacted.
Maybe you did, but...maybe you didn’t. Maybe what you were feeling was completely valid.
Studies from the Pew Research Center show that employed women are roughly four times as likely as men to say they have been treated as if they were not competent because of their gender, and they are about three times as likely as men to say they have experienced repeated small slights at work because of their gender. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that something “small” wasn’t small at all.
Maybe the comment was subtle. Maybe only you noticed the look. It doesn’t matter. You’re allowed to feel frustrated, slighted, and upset when something happens, no matter how inconsequential it may seem to others.
Gender related or not, here are six times you did not overreact:
1. When someone in the office is passive-aggressive toward you
In a TIME article, Jeffrey Kluger writes, “Passive-aggression is there but it’s not, you see it and you don’t. It’s aggression as steam—hard to frame, impossible to grasp.”
Passive-aggressive phrases often slide into conversations so subtly that hardly anyone notices. Sometimes it’s not the statement itself that gets you, but the tone. “I wouldn’t expect you to know,” or “I don’t want to criticize / sound mean / be the bad guy, but…,” or “Not to be judgemental, but…,” or “whatever.” You may not be able to pinpoint the exact words, but often, you feel the aggression—and typically, passive-aggressive behavior occurs over and over again by the same employees, and it’s the culmination of repetitive behaviors that often lead someone to react so strongly.
This is reasonable, even if outsiders believe you’re overreacting to this one instance. What they may not realize is that this one instance is simply one of many.
The solution? Stop the passive aggressive behavior as soon as it starts—with directness. What do you mean by that? isn’t the favorite follow-up of passive aggressive coworkers, but it’s a healthy way to stand up for yourself.
2. When someone said, “I’m just joking”
Sometimes, rude comments are made, followed by the nails-on-the-chalkboard phrase I’m just joking / kidding. These words are often used to negate the negativity attached to a comment or criticism. If you’re on the receiving end of the statement, this often makes the situation even more uncomfortable or potentially infuriating.
Instead of saying, It’s clearly not a joke, you’re forced to smile, to accept the fake laughter, and to keep your reaction to yourself, but know: It’s acceptable to confront a “joking” statement that makes you uncomfortable.
Ask to speak to the person one on one so you can calmly discuss the problem at hand. Then, be direct: Do you have an issue with the way I work? Although this question is pointed, it is completely reasonable. You’re cutting the tension by addressing how, joke or not, something made you feel, and there’s nothing wrong with this.
3. When your direct report showed up late to the company-wide meeting again
Unfortunately, when you manage employees, their actions can be seen as a reflection of you. Although you establish approval systems and provide resources to make their day-to-day more productive, you can’t always make someone listen or care.
When an employee is late, or inconsiderate, or unprepared for a presentation or a meeting, it can lead your managers or higher ups to criticize you. You’re allowed to be upset when this happens, because you can’t control your employee. You can offer constructive feedback. You can set reminders and you can encourage your employee(s) to be more aware, but at the end of the day, you shouldn’t be measured by the standard someone else set.
Reacting defensively, which may not be the best response, is a human one, but try a more tactical approach if this becomes a major problem. If you’ve already communicated that being on time or coming prepared is a requirement for the job, use the company’s coaching or performance management system to formally share your concerns with the employee. They should know that if they don’t deliver on this part of their job, they won’t have one anymore.
If there’s no formal process in place, request from HR that one be made. Plans like these usually include a week-by-week performance guide, with dated benchmarks and goals, to get an employee back on track.
4. When someone addressed your personal life in a professional atmosphere
According to a study conducted by Officevibe, 70 percent of employees say having friends at work is the most crucial element to a happy working life. Having friends in the office can be a good thing, but sometimes, it can be problematic. Whether it happens by accident or on purpose, it can be extremely frustrating when a coworker feels comfortable sharing your personal information with coworkers or managers, especially when that personal information reflects poorly on you or gives an unfair representation of you.
You’re not overreacting when you get upset. The best way to handle this is to address the friend and ask them to keep your personal information out of the office. If they were talking about their Saturday night, which you were a part of, ask them to please refrain from mentioning your name when sharing these stories. It may seem extreme to the friend, but it is a completely reasonable concern—and one that you should feel confident addressing.
5. When a coworker made a sexist, racist, or rude comment about somebody else
Women deal with sexism all the time, but what if the comment isn’t meant for you? Maybe a coworker says something sexual or judgemental about an actresses’ body or maybe someone makes an inappropriate comment about another person in the office. Even if the comment isn’t directed at you, you can still feel personally attacked—or upset for the person involved—when it’s said.
Although confronting them head-on can cause a negative reaction—This has nothing to do with you, You wouldn’t understand, Why do you care so much?—you can and should speak up. They should know this behavior isn’t acceptable.
If the comments don’t stop after you confront the person, talk to your boss or HR. Make sure to document (time, date, place) every comment that’s been said. That’s important to ensuring discriminatory behavior stops.
6. You get asked out on LinkedIn or during a business meeting
Maybe you met a guy at a networking event and gave him your business card. Maybe you messaged someone in the hopes of discussing prospective work collaborations. You don’t have to explain the reason for the initial contact. When someone crosses the professional boundaries and asks you out, you have every right to be upset.
Not only has this person made you uncomfortable, they have also put you in a compromising position, especially if they are a potential client (or an actual client). Do you tell your manager? Do you delete the person from your LinkedIn? How do you turn them down while maintaining the relationship? There’s no easy way to deal with this situation and the fact that you have to… is beyond irritating.
Workplace relationships can be hard to navigate, especially considering how much time you spend in the office, surrounded by the same people every Monday through Friday for years and years. To deal with conflicts, unacceptable comments, and sexist behavior, again, directness is key. If you’re not interested, firmly and consistently say no. If your requests aren’t honored, follow these steps to dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace.
As for LinkedIn, block whoever you want. Despite being a professional platform, your social media space is yours—and if that person has professional concerns, he can email you instead.
Other equally justifiable times to react
This list isn’t exhaustive; it’s illustrative. Here are a few other times you have every reason to be upset: