Avoid Snappy Comebacks with Snarky People

by Jennifer Miller on July 12, 2016

in Communication, Personal Effectiveness

Someone Googled “come back for want some cheese with that whine” and Google returned my post Want Some Cheese with That Whine? The person viewing the search was most likely disappointed, as the post was about how Human Resources deal with whiny employees.  However, it does raise an interesting question about workplace communication:  what would you say if someone actually said that to you? It appears that there’s at least one person out there grappling with it, and I bet there are more too. So, let’s take a look at how to handle the clever jab from a potentially less-than-friendly source.

First of all, know that you’ll most likely be momentarily stunned. It’s easy to get caught off guard when a coworker experiences an outburst. Try your best, however, to maintain your composure. It may be tempting to come back with something equally snarky, but that just escalates things and doesn’t really solve anything*.

In the end, effective workplace communications comes down to putting on your big girl pants (or, if you prefer, manning up) and taking on this kind of comment in a non-confrontational way. There are two points to consider:

  1. Is it possible you truly came across as whining?
  2. Is the Snarky Comment Slinger a habitual offender?

In either case, I’ve found the best way deal with this type of verbal wordplay is to remain neutral—“Oh, geez, did I come across as whiny? I didn’t mean to. I guess I’m just really frustrated by this project. I’m at a roadblock; would you be willing to offer a few suggestions?”

By doing this you’ve addressed both issues without becoming confrontational. If you did in fact come across as whiny (hey, it happens), then you’ve acknowledged it. Now, on the the second issue: the Snark Factor. It takes the wind out of a nasty person’s sails if you are direct, yet non-threatening. If the person is a habitual offender, then you’ve signaled to him or her that you won’t allow yourself to be bullied. If, on the other hand, the person’s just having a bad day, then you’ve kept the door open for them to offer an apology. Just be sure that if an apology is forthcoming, you accept it graciously.

So, as fun as it would be to comeback with, “Yes, please, I’m partial to Cheddar. Are you buying?” it may not really serve the longer term goal of having a healthy relationship with your co-workers.

Have you ever had someone say this to you?  If so, what was your comeback? I’m sure there are far more clever, yet professional responses than the one offered above. Chime in!

*Caveat: I’m aware that for co-workers who are close friends, this sort of banter is par for the course. If you know the person well and have a track record of trading clever ripostes, then these suggestions aren’t for you. Keep in mind though that even the “best” of friends can go too far.  So, if you’ve pushed a boundary with someone who you believe should “lighten up”, consider if your words wounded rather than lightened the mood.

Original publication date: August 2013. Revised July 2016

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Kuhns February 4, 2011 at 7:57 am

Great advice Jennifer. Small comments can turn into big problems so quickly as we all know. Using these strategies will save everyone a lot of trouble! Great message.

Jennifer V. Miller February 4, 2011 at 9:17 am


Hi! Thanks for stopping by The People Equation. You’ve just given me an idea for another blog post: The Snowball Effect: “small comments can turn into big problems”.

Mike Henry Sr. February 4, 2011 at 10:19 am

Jennifer, I would say, “Oh, great! Thanks…” which is exactly how I responded the one time I remember a co-worker saying that to me. I don’t know what I would have said to all of the other co-workers and times that it probably should have been said. 🙂

Jennifer Miller February 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm


C’mon, now! You are *not* a whiner!

Question: with what sort of tone did you say, “Oh, great! Thanks…” and how did the person respond?

Reney July 30, 2018 at 6:40 pm

Seems a comment about a person whining and another person who’s critical of that, it doesn’t even belong in the workplace. Not if you’re in a professional position that is!

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