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Background:

I was born with several disabilities, including Asperger's syndrome, hearing impairment, and other difficulties related to being born blue. (Neonatal hypoxia)

I am nearly 50, am independent, and have come to terms with all of my difficulties. While I did have a bit of a rough life, I've learned to cope and I am not sensitive about my disabilities in the least. I make light of them, joke about them and don't mind if others do the same.

The problem is with an acquaintance who will jump all over anyone who snarks or comments on things that I do that even I find funny, such as taking something literally, misunderstanding something, et cet. This has had a chilling effect because now people who would joke around with me are being cautious with their comments and are not treating me the same as before.

I'm not made out of glass and it is not this person's place to be offended on my behalf. Frankly, I find it insulting, as it is treating me like I'm a child. I am well capable of handling anything that is actually rude and or abusive and don't need a savior.

How can I best communicate to this person that this behavior is unacceptable, and let the others know that their behavior is?

I'm tempted to just tell the person off, but that would create difficulties as this is at work and the person is in a position of power.

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    @RichardU Can you expand on the relationship between you and this person if it's relevant to the question? – justathought May 11 '18 at 19:11
  • @justathought it's not really relevant. I just need a way to address this without being too confrontational. – user4548 May 11 '18 at 19:12
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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. – Tinkeringbell May 14 '18 at 19:43
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    The answers provided already reflect some useful advice, however, given the fact that you set a bounty on your question hints that there is something still missing. Would you care to clarify what type of strategy do you want to go for? Do you want IP tactics to defuse, prevent or patch up your relationships while addressing this person in power? Additional outlining of the general situation at work when this happens would also help provide a more effective answer. Is it during presential meetings or remote chat sessions? on a table or hall? what is the arrangement of people during the event? – J A May 14 '18 at 20:43
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    Do you have contact with this person outside the situation or is it addressing this person during the situation the only opportunity to do so? – J A May 14 '18 at 21:04
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Since this person is trying to do right by you, it's probably best to approach it by first acknowledging their attempts to be helpful before asking them to stop. I'd recommend privately saying something like:

"I notice you've been sticking up for me when ______ (instance/example), and I appreciate the intent behind you doing that for me. Can I ask you to do me a favor? I'm not bothered by _______ so I'd prefer to be the one to say something if I was."

The key to not making this relationship turn ill (especially since this person seems to be a workplace acquaintance) is to pat this person on the back for attempting to be your ally before telling them that you'd prefer to fight your own battles. While you may not actually be thankful for their attempts, it'll make the rejection a bit easier for them to handle (because at least you're saying you appreciate their effort).

Additionally, asking them to comply to your wishes via leading with "Can I ask you to do me a favor?" also let's them continue to take action in being your ally (but by letting you handle it yourself). They clearly want to help, so asking them to hold their tongue for you may be a great way to redirect their undesired behavior to a desired one (in your case, them keeping quiet).

tl;dr: thanks, but no thanks

On the side of approaching those who were "scolded" by this person, they'll probably warm back up to joking around after a while of not having this third party run interference (especially since you seem to like to joke about it yourself, and that's sure to lighten them back up to it).

I'd avoid telling them that the acquaintance was out of line because, again, he was trying to help... Plus, it could reflect poorly on you if it got back to him that you were actually really put off by his actions, and end up causing tension on your relationship.

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One of the best ways I have found for dealing with these kinds of situations is to casually defend those in question. Accusations that someone might be offensive can really upset the tone of the interaction between everyone involved and it is important that you attempt to return that tone back to a pleasant one, assuming you don't find it to be offensive. For example if someone jokes about a disability of yours and the acquaintance attempts to reprimand them, you might say something along the lines of:

No, it's fine. I love a good joke, but maybe this one would be more appropriate outside of work.

By saying this you are accomplishing multiple things:

  • First you are letting your acquaintance know that you are not offended by the joke, and that there is no need for them to be offended for you.

  • Secondly you reinforce the idea that they were not attempting to be offensive, but merely joking with you. This can be important because it can help to diffuse any feelings that they may have had different intentions by saying you believe they were joking.

  • And third, and probably most importantly, you acknowledge that this might not be the correct location for a something that could potentially be construed as offensive. You mentioned that the acquaintance looking to defend you is in a position of power at work. If this is true, it's always helpful to remind everyone that HR might not see it your way if such an incident were to be reported.

Nobody wants to be put in a situation where they are afraid to talk to people about certain subjects, but it is important to learn there is a time and place for everything

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+500

As other said, your acquaintance is doing this because he likes you and surely because he has no idea how strong you are. In fact, reacting like this shows that he surely is weaker than you, and wouldn’t handle it if it happened to him.

Considering the previous assumption, don’t be too cutting toward him.

I am nearly 50, am independent, and have come to terms with all of my difficulties. While I did have a bit of a rough life, I've learned to cope and I am not sensitive about my disabilities in the least. I make light of them, joke about them and don't mind if others do the same.

That’s the perfect quote.

You should first acknowledge that his actions translate a true care for you. You should thank him and then explain to him that the best thing that can happen in your condition is to get to a point people can joke freely about it. Actually you think you’re pretty funny sometimes even if it’s not always on purpose.

You can go into more details if he doesn’t get it right away but the best is to tell him after he does it again. With a smile and a lot of understanding.

If it does happen again after that

Replies directly to him with a smile by saying:

don’t worry for me, look at my big muscles

And give a him a wink that will remind him your previous conversation and build complicity.

Also, replying with a joke should immediately clear the air.

1

You seem to find yourself in a situation of sides. Wherein your acquaintance seems to perceive a situation in which it's you vs. them.

Your acquaintance then jumps onto your imaginary side and starts defending it.

However, those actions are based on inaccurate representations of the situation. So really, I think you're looking for a way to change this perception, by using your communication skills to shape what's going on.

I'm going to go through steps in order of severity:

1. Be in on the joke (when appropriate)

You said that sometimes you even find things funny and don't want to be defensive or be defending. Those situations are perfect opportunities. From a US perspective, jokes at other peoples' expenses don't really have to hurt anyone. In fact, when used correctly, they can be enjoyable for even the person they are made "against".

When that happens, and you feel the joke really isn't meant to hurt you, make it visibly clear you enjoy it. Laugh, play along, maybe even counter with your own joke about it.

So someone says:

I didn't mean that literally. Ha, sometimes talking to you feels like talking to a robot.

You can laugh and respond:

Ha, good think us robots will be taking over your job soon.

This playful banter will firstly make sure the situation stays even, and not one-sided. That's important, because it will give off social cues that suggest there is no conflict, and therefore no need to defend anyone.

Also, this technique is sometimes recommended even if the other person is actually being mean, because it defuses the situation and takes the bite out of their words. You may wish to use it in that situation, and that's okay, it could prove to help even more.

2. Defend your "Attackers"

So someones says a joke. Your manager jumps in and defends you. This is your cue to throw around some of the cliches.

Smile, firstly, and say something like:

Relax, it's just a joke.

Or

We're all just having fun. Don't worry, no harm done.

Honestly, you might want to do this firstly, to get your manager to back off. You can then go back and tell your attackers to knock it off in private, if you need to or if you really want to defend yourself.

^ That's what I would call Divide and Conquer.

3. Help Defend Yourself, but Make Corrections

So your acquaintance says something like:

He didn't mean to take it literally. Lay off him, he can't help it.

Then you can "add" to this:

I can take a joke, it's fine, but maybe it's going a little too far. No reason to fight over it, though.

Warning: this option is very subtle. Your acquaintance may not even realize you contradicted him. Hopefully the others will see it and realize that it's okay to joke around you, respectfully.

If you paint the image that it's okay to joke around you, and your acquaintance doesn't get it, at the very least people will have the idea that they can joke around you, just not your acquaintance. Which really isn't so bad.

4. Talk To Your Acquaintance

Okay so this guy can't take social cues and fails to read situations and simply cannot stop his behavior based on the situation. (At this point it sounds like he is the disabled one).

First things first, thank him. He is trying to help you, after all. He doesn't deserve punishment for that, even verbally.

So start with:

Hey, I think things got escalated a little bit yesterday when those guys were making jokes at me. I really appreciate what you tried to do.

Then lead into what is fundamentally wrong with his approach:

However, I don't think what you did have the intended effect. Those guys are now just afraid to say things around me. I really don't want that.

Then address his goals and ensure him they are being met:

I promise that if they get out of hand, that I can handle it myself. In fact, I will. If I need help, I'll be sure to ask you.

This should almost undoubtedly suggest to him that he stop, without you explicitly telling him to.

I would leave it at that, and if it does happen again, you can re-approach the subject and say something like:

Hey, again I appreciate your effort but now I'm asking you to not defend me. I know you're trying to help, but I am not asking for help right now. I can handle it myself and in the case where I can't, I'll call on you for backup.

You don't have to mean it. I'm sure you don't actually want his help, ever. But opening him up to that possibility will make him feel needed or wanted and pacify him.

For this type of confrontation, you need to use your interpersonal skills to convey to this person that ultimately you're on the same side, but you're just kind of taking charge. If you make him feel like an enemy, he will act like your enemy.

You probably don't want enemies.

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I'm not made out of glass and it is not this person's place to be offended on my behalf. Frankly, I find it insulting, as it is treating me like I'm a child. I am well capable of handling anything that is actually rude and or abusive and don't need a savior.

This quote from your question is an excellent response to the person, only modified as follows:

"I'm not made out of glass and it is not your place to be offended on my behalf. Frankly, I find it insulting, as it is treating me like I'm a child. I am well capable of handling anything that is actually rude and or abusive and don't need a savior."

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    That's the nuclear option, which you should reserve until you've tried approaches that won't insult your wannabe white knight by spelling it out in such excruciating detail, and putting it so negatively. Assuming they were genuinely trying to help, they should be more than willing to stop if you just ask them to. (And will probably think of half of this on their own even if it's left unsaid.) But if the gentle approach suggested by other answers doesn't work, then sure, explain exactly why you find it insulting. But don't expect them to like hearing it. – Peter Cordes May 13 '18 at 7:09
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[...] this is at work [...]

This is the key information here. I am sorry to tell you, but joking about disabilities is unacceptable in the workplace. It doesn't matter if you like it or not, it is just not the right place for such kind of interaction (you can think of it as some kind of mental intimacy).

So what you acquaintance does, is just reminding your coworkers that their behavior is inappropriate.

If this would not be about the workplace I would suggest you speak to your acquaintance in a private situation and tell her how you feel about her reactions in specific situations (bring examples and tell her how you would like her to react in future situations).

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