Leadership

How to deal with mansplaining and other annoying co-workers

Steve Carell as Michael Scott, Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly on "The Office"
NBC | Getty Image
Steve Carell as Michael Scott, Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly on "The Office"

If you have ever felt like a male boss or co-worker was explaining your own ideas to you, or if you're the one doing the explaining, you may have experienced "mansplaining."

The term has made it to Merriam-Webster's "Words we're watching," which defines it as "when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of," while mistakenly assuming he has superior knowledge.

And even the best colleagues can get on your nerves.

When they do, leadership expert Tiffany Dufu has a strategy to diffuse the situation: humor.

Speaking at Cosmopolitan's Let's Talk About It event in New York recently, Dufu explained her three-step mainsplainer deflection process.

"I have a little humor formula," she says. "It's basically a phrase, two questions, and then I laugh."

When an awkward situation with a coworker arises, Dufu always says the same thing: "You are hilarious." That way, the person is not immediately put on the defensive.

After the set up, Dufu calls out the problem, then laughs to keep the tone light.

89063971
Alberto E. Rodriguez | Getty Image

For example, Dufu recently had a situation with her literary agent when discussing the paperback copy of her book, "Drop The Ball." The agent, a man, was suggesting Dufu select a certain picture of herself to put on the cover because her smile "would resonate with women."

Dufu, who is female and Chief Leadership Officer to Levo, a professional networking company for young women, has had an impressive career focused on working with women and girls. So she was irked.

To handle it, she used her trick.

"You are so hilarious," Dufu recalls saying. And then, "Who is the literary agent, and who is the expert on what resonates with women [here]?" pointing out the irony of his suggestion given their genders and her expertise.

Then she wrapped up with a laugh.

Humor is a good tool — when people make complaints while using humor, the information is more likely to be remembered, shared and acknowledged, according to a 2015 study by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The study also found that, "humorous complainers are better liked than non-humorous complainers," meaning Dufu's method could be a way to make a point without damaging a professional relationship.

And research suggests that a sense of humor can pay off in other ways professionally.

"If individuals tell appropriate jokes that make others laugh, they are likely to signal both confidence and competence and increase their status," according to a study by Harvard Business School. The research found that effective joke tellers even have better chances at being chosen as leaders.

Currently there is a wide gender gap in leadership roles in corporate America – for example, only 27 of the 500 companies in the S&P 500 index have women as CEOs.

Humor — "It works every time," Dufu says.

Don't miss: How Gretchen Carlson's lawsuit against Fox News inspired her teenage daughter to stand up for herself

Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook!