Is my boss negging me?
June 21, 2016 3:02 PM   Subscribe

My manager, who I'm not sure is my biggest fan, has lately taken to commenting on my appearance almost every time I see her. What do I do about it?

Small bit of background - I work in health care where it's sort of normal for all of us to be all up in each others business when it comes to health and wellness. So the comments are not totally out of left field from that perspective.

However this manager has lately felt the need to ask me if I've looked in a mirror lately, that I have dark circles under my eyes, and that I look exhausted. Do I need to get my iron checked? Also that I have two black eyes and look like a Panda.

These comments have been made a few times across several months.

This is done under the guise of being caring and up front, but as I'm pretty sure my manager doesn't like me I kind of think she's doing it as a way to get a dig in at me.

If I was in a normal office type situation I would just say (politely) that my health is my own business and that the comments are making me feel self conscious. However I'm not sure quite how to go about doing that in this circumstance and am looking for suggestions for how to tactfully tell my manager to quit commenting on my damn face. Or alternatively whether I should just ignore her and pick a different hill to die on.
posted by supercrayon to Work & Money (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"Please don't discuss my appearance." *Pointed stare*
posted by Jubey at 3:06 PM on June 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

That's not negging, that's being a rude jerk. I wouldn't even acknowledge these comments as anything more than random and weird. Just look at her and blandly say "wow, you are observant" or "yup" and walk away or change the subject. She will get the hint eventually that you aren't going to engage in that conversation.
posted by joan_holloway at 3:08 PM on June 21, 2016 [15 favorites]

Agree with joan_holloway, this is just someone who is a jerk. Now, they may be an oblivious jerk. Or they may be a bully who is using their asshole behavior to manipulate you or keep you in a certain place in the pecking order.

Either way, best approach is to ignore. If anything, I might say, "Yeah, you've said that a few times lately." With a deliberate period at the end of that sentence.
posted by Sara C. at 3:14 PM on June 21, 2016 [19 favorites]

I might make a joking comment of the type that would put her on the spot - "yeah, you're working me half to death! I could really use an extra day off!" *laugh* but it depends on how you think it would play. She doesn't want to actually give you time off for your health, just make comments without consequences, so she might start avoiding the subject. I wouldn't say that if I thought the manager felt I couldn't handle the work.
posted by decathexis at 3:19 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you have regular 1-on-1 check-ins with your supervisor? If not, why not request a check-in and then you can bring up her recent comments. You could say something like...

Over the past couple of weeks you've made several comments about my appearance - that I look tired or should check myself in a mirror. Do you have some specific concerns about me or my work?

Put the onus on your manager to be direct with you. Invite her to give you actual feedback instead of the passive aggressive nonsense she's throwing at you. If she can give you legit feedback, then thank her and see if you can figure out a way to incorporate it. But more likely, she won't have anything to say, will back peddle her comments, and that will be the end of it.

And if you work for a large enough organization that they do employee engagement surveys or 360 reviews then you should bring up these issues. Language you could use would includel.

It would be helpful if Health Care Organization had supervisors and employees had regular check-ins so there is a clear place to get feedback.
I'm concerned that the norms of my department don't encourage direct feedback and constructive criticism.
My manager doesn't address concerns directly, instead I get vague hints and am not sure how I should act on them. I would be open to any feedback, but in the current climate it's unclear what I could be doing to improve.

posted by brookeb at 3:41 PM on June 21, 2016 [11 favorites]

Don't respond in any way that could be twisted and used against you. It doesn't matter if the manager thinks you can't handle the work, because if you imply that it's too much, she will save up "couldn't handle the work" for your performance review and surprise you with it.

Just mirror her back at herself by going with the "yeah, you've said that a few times" script.
posted by tel3path at 3:43 PM on June 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

"So you've said" is fine. "It's not really nice to comment on other people's faces," maybe. Beyond that I think you're heading into confrontation territory which, while she totally deserves, isn't likely to end well for you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:31 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sounds like something humans say to one another when they look exhausted.

A few times across several months sounds like less than once a month. There's a lot about your workplace and relationship I don't know, but it may be shitty and you may be making a mountain out of a molehill. There's no way for an outsider to know.
posted by jpe at 5:10 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Consider writing down what was said where and when. Good reference if you need it later.
posted by cestmoi15 at 5:19 PM on June 21, 2016

This would piss me off. I don't think you're making a mountain out of a molehill. The comments you describe are fucking rude. I would probably respond with sarcasm along the lines of "What the hell is this 'mirror' thing? I've never heard of that!" Or I might be more direct and say something like "Really? I look like a panda? What is this, junior high school?"

And, depending on how you feel about the trustworthiness of HR, I would complain to HR each time she says something like this.
posted by a strong female character at 5:41 PM on June 21, 2016

I would smile and say ' you always remind me so much of my grandmother'
posted by InkaLomax at 5:43 PM on June 21, 2016 [13 favorites]

A variant on brookeb's response, in case it was too formal for your workplace:

"I feel like you've been saying that a lot to me lately, and it's been making me self-conscious. If you're worried about me or my energy level or something, I think it would be great if we could just be direct about it. Do you want to take a minute to talk?"
posted by Susan PG at 6:49 PM on June 21, 2016

I don't think she's negging you (see below to find out why). First, though, two things in your post stand out to me:

#1. "My manager, who I'm not sure is my biggest fan, has lately taken to commenting on my appearance almost every time I see her."

#2. "These comments have been made a few times across several months."

Unless you see your manager only once every 3-6 weeks, which seems unlikely, my guess is that you're experiencing confirmation bias: you expect your manager to comment negatively on your appearance, and you notice when it does happen, and remember it, but you don't notice or remember when she doesn't do it.

Again, I'm just guessing based on what you wrote, but it's worth thinking about.

Also, as someone who has been a manager, let me say this: even if she doesn't like you personally, she might have a professional interest in a supervisee's well-being. I have had employees who are far from being my friends, but if there's something going on with them that seems to be affecting their work, I want to help them deal with it, because an employee who isn't distracted does better work, but also because even if I don't personally like someone, I still want them to be happy. Unless your manager actively dislikes you, she may wish you well.

In any case, since "negging" is a pick-up artist term, unless you think your manager is trying to hit on you by lowering your expectations, I don't think she's doing that!

Bigger question: is she right? Is there something going on with your health that she's picking up on, and that you need to address? You can dislike the messenger, but she might still have a message that you need to hear.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:19 PM on June 21, 2016

Thanks for all your replies guys, I'm chewing options over.

Just to clarify a few questions - I'm reasonably confident it's not confirmation bias. I'm not getting these comments from anyone but her. Including my husband, who would you think be the first person to see that I'm looking particularly yuck.

She also often makes these comments in front of people so it puts me in an even more awkward position of then attracting scrutiny from my coworkers, who naturally start examining me. Which is fun.

As to whether I am actually tired or not - yes I am very tired! I work full time and do shift work (including night shifts). But so does everyone else I work with, so I'm not especially tired compared with my coworkers, if that makes sense.

Also sorry was using negging as a joke, obviously my boss is not hitting on me (I hope?)
posted by supercrayon at 8:24 PM on June 21, 2016

I work in health care where it's sort of normal for all of us to be all up in each others business when it comes to health and wellness.

Working in healthcare doesn't make unsolicited comments about your co-workers' or employees' health any less obnoxious (and possibly illegal).

I would likely go with something like, "Are you worried that my appearance will affect my ability to care for clients?" and see where that goes. If it's a "no" answer, then a polite variation on "Then I'm not sure why you're bringing it up, then," might head it off.

And if you're making unsolicited comments on your co-workers' or supervisors' health and "wellness," stop doing that, too. That sounds toxic. Giving asked-for advice is one thing, being "all up in each others' business" is another.
posted by lazuli at 8:59 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I like a cheery "Thanks! You too!" without even a hint of sarcasm. It'll drive her crazy wondering how you meant that, a joke? Sarcasm? Seriously? Didn't hear what she said?
posted by ctmf at 10:24 PM on June 21, 2016 [6 favorites]

I have dark circles under my eyes 24/7 thanks to genetics, and it has nothing to do with how tired I am, so I've gotten comments about it before. Especially when I'm not wearing makeup/under eye concealer. My response to "you look tired today" type comments is usually something like:

"Really? Huh, I don't feel tired." (cheery version)
"I'm not tired, this is just how I look." (said with a very flat affect; this is the i hope this makes you feel a little bad about your comment version)

Which response I choose depends on my mood, whether I like the person saying it enough to give them the benefit of the doubt, etc.
posted by misskaz at 6:26 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

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