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9 Women on the Pettiest Insults They’ve Heard at Work

“I was just a little surprised.”


By Katie Heaney, The Cut

Piece of Work is a column about workplace behavior and feelings: everything that happens at the office, except your actual job.

In a recent venting session, a co-worker of mine shared a particularly devastating piece of feedback she’d received from an editor regarding a draft she’d submitted: “I was just a little surprised.”

Oof. My co-worker’s self-esteem was shot, at least for the day. “I was just a little surprised” is nothing if not the work equivalent of a parent’s “I’m not mad, just disappointed;” it doesn’t mean you’re in trouble, exactly, but it does mean you aren’t quite as good at your job as you were expected to be. There was nothing I could do to soften the blow. I could only commiserate, which got me thinking about the meanest things I’ve ever been told at work, which then made me want to ask the internet for theirs.

In soliciting these stories, I barely had to describe what I meant. Everyone just knew. Mean work feedback is a very specific, familiar form of insult: underhanded, passive-aggressive, veiled, unexpectedly humiliating. Maybe because it happens in a context in which we’re supposed to be “professional” and polite, these comments might seem subtle upon first glance, but upon a second, they can be vicious. Sometimes they’re couched in workspeak (or Slackspeak). Sometimes they come from a superior, or someone who thinks they should be your superior. Usually this is a person telling you, in one way or another, how to do your job, and as we all know, everyone hates that. For these reasons, and others, petty work jabs stick with you.

Here are nine of yours.

“Before the start of my internship, I brought up a scheduling conflict that would delay the start date of my term, and my supervisor (who was super fun and cordial until this point), wrote: ‘That’s a bit problematic. Candice, I’m frankly disappointed.’” —Candice


“I once emailed my boss asking if I could leave a little early because of a dispute with a co-worker and not feeling comfortable alone with him once every one else had left for the day. All I got back from my boss was: ‘The work day ends at 5.’” —Elizabeth

“‘Please speak with [insert employee name here] for more information on this matter as this is outside my scope of work.’ This is my favorite because it’s interpreted as: ‘I’m tired of dealing with you on this issue, so I told my co-worker about what an idiot you are. I could continue to help you, but I will give you the run around instead.’” —Jasmine


“My supervisor emailed me: ‘You’ve been doing an awesome job so keep up the good work. However, I’m getting complaints about socializing and our volume. I want our department to remain under the radar and don’t want any issues … Also, we are required to wear shoes in the office at all times. Let me know if you have any questions.”

I swear to God that I always wear shoes!!!! Maybe I switched from heels to flats for like ten seconds? Not sure where this came from.” —Heather

“The other week, a fellow editor was looking over a dek I wrote that followed the ‘Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!’ construction, and she told me to change it, which is fine, but followed it with: ‘You’re better than that!’ I think she wanted me to feel embarrassed for using an easy reference, but instead I just felt a whole bunch of rage over this person saying something so condescending about A DEK.” —an anonymous editor

“By far the most subtle burn I have ever received is ‘I appreciated the wisdom in what you’re saying,’ said after I offered an alternative solution to a problem that he did not agree with.” —Allison

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Career Magazine: 9 Women on the Pettiest Insults They’ve Heard at Work
9 Women on the Pettiest Insults They’ve Heard at Work
“I was just a little surprised.”
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