23 Offensive Things You're Accidentally Saying at Work

Coworkers Talking


AnnaMarie Houlis
AnnaMarie Houlis
June 23, 2024 at 7:29AM UTC
Often we'll hear condescending microaggressions that someone may or may not consciously express — whether they're sexist, racist, homophobic, ageist or discriminatory in another capacity. The may even come from people who mean well.
Microaggressions can make a workplace both unsafe and toxic, especially because they're sometimes so subtle. How do you know if you're on the receiving end? If you feel slightly insulted, even though the thing they've said seems complimentary on the surface, you may have witnessed a microaggression.
We've rounded up 23 things people say that are most definitely not OK in the office or elsewhere.

1. "You're so Articulate for Your Age."

This is a condescending and ageist comment to say to a young person in an office.

2. "You're Gay? You Should Meet My Gay Friend!"

Imagine saying, "You're straight? You should meet my straight friend!" It's not okay.

3. "You Can Pull That Off Unlike Someone with [X Body Part]."

Telling someone that they can pull of a certain outfit piece better than someone with bigger breasts or longer legs or wider hips, etc. is not only rude anytime, but it's especially inappropriate in an office space. Leave any comments about a person's physical appearance out of your workplace conversations.

4. "Sorry, Wrong Person."

If you're going to meet with someone in a particular position and, when you get to their desk or office, they don't "look the part," don't be so quick to assume. 

5. "No, Where Are You Really From?"

It's rude to assume that someone isn't from where they tell you they're from just because they don't look like you.

6. "Your Name Is Impossible to Pronounce!"

A wealth of research suggests that people with difficult-to-pronounce names have a harder time finding work and are considered less likable. When you ask someone their name, don't judge it. Try to learn it.

7. "My Boss is Crazy."

Your boss may be overwhelmed or have a lot on his or her plate — don't be so quick to throw insults around, especially in the office where word travels.

8. "It's So Inspiring That You've Overcome Your Disability."

There's no need to call out someone for being differently abled than you. Maybe they really do inspire you, but they're living their life how they know how. Let them do it.

9. "You Must Be in the Wrong Room."

Don't make assumptions about people and their positions based on what they look like, or their age even. If someone walks into a room who doesn't belong there, they'll quickly figure it out on their own when you politely introduce yourself instead.

10. "Wow, Is That Your Real Hair?"

Asking a person of color if their hair is real is intrusive and rude. This is especially rude because there's a long history of oppressing women of color in public spaces like schools and offices for wearing their hair naturally.

11. "You're Trans? I'd Never Have Guessed — You Don't Look It At All."

Sure, you want to compliment someone for a successful transition, but how about just accepting them for the person they are instead of analyzing how they became to be that person? Besides, what does a trans person look like anyway? We're all individuals.

12. "You Look Like One of the Interns!"

Calling someone out on looking young comes across condescending.

13. "Do You Even Know How to Use Facebook?"

If you ask an older person in the office if they know how to use social media like Facebook, it comes across as ageist. If they don't know how to use a platform, help them; don't call them out on something they didn't grow up with.

14. "You Have an Instagram? I Didn't Think You'd Know What It Is!"

Likewise, calling out an older person in the office for using a platform like Instagram is rude.

15. "Why Do You Wear That [X Item]?"

Never ask someone why they wear something — whether that's a hijab or hair extensions. Let them live.

16. "Let Me Interrupt You For a Second."

Let them finish for a second.

17. "I Don't See Color."

You do see color. We all see color. What you want to say is that you accept people of all colors as equal.

18. "I Don't Want to Sound Racist/Homophobic/Sexist But..."

If you have to preface a statement with saying you don't want to sound a certain way, it's probably because you're about to sound that way.

19. "Not to Make It a Race/Gay/Gender Thing But..."

Again, if you have to preface a statement with "not to make it about" a topic, it's probably because you're about to do just that.

20. "When I Was Your Age..."

Depending on the circumstances, telling a younger colleague in the office that, when you were their age, you did this or that can be condescending. You're not their age, and they're not you.

21. "I Told You So."

When things hit the fan, don't be the one to say, "I told you so." Be the one to help come up with a resolution.

22. "You Should Speak to [X Name of Someone in an Entirely Irrelevant Role], They're Great at This Stuff."

If your coworker who works in the photography apartment is working on an editing program they specialize in, referring them to the guy who works in IT but plays around with cameras in his spare time is essentially negating this person's experience and credibility. They didn't ask for help, and they especially don't need it from someone with less experience than they have. 

23. "We All Have to Start Somewhere."

This is true, and it's often good advice. But don't say it in a supercilious way to someone in a position below you.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.

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