Dealing with Jerks at Work
When someone bugs you, it’s tempting to characterize the person as a jerk. But is the person truly a jerk, or is it just some aspect of the person’s behavior that’s annoying? What, actually, makes someone a jerk?
In a syndicated column first published in 1961, Sydney J. Harris gave considerable thought to this question and concluded:
“….a jerk is basically a person without insight. He is not necessarily a fool or a dope, because some extremely clever persons can be jerks. In fact, it has little to do with intelligence as we commonly think of it; it is, rather, a kind of subtle but persuasive aroma emanating from the inner part of the personality.”
Harris goes on to say that jerks are people who are unable to see themselves as they appear to others. They’re boring, egotistical, and tactless—and clueless about their behavior. I’d add that the troublesome behavior is not a one-time thing or an understandable reaction to a legitimate problem; the person exhibits a consistent pattern of annoying behavior.
Alas, there appears to be no shortage of jerks in the workplace. Some are in management, some are in the corner office, and some, perhaps, are at desks near yours. If you have to work with these people, it might not be wise to confront them, because they might not get the message and you’d risk making the situation worse.
Instead, start by making sure you’re not in some way contributing to the aspect of their behavior that annoys you. If you’re sure you’re not, try to understand their motivation and use any insights you gain to do your job while avoiding getting drawn into their problems.
A more subtle possibility is to treat them with kindness in hopes of serving as a role model of acceptable behavior. Or compliment them about something they did well. Some people who behave like jerks just want to know someone notices and appreciates their efforts. Acknowledging that you noticed may not transform their conduct, but it may cause them to ease up on the offensive behavior. (Granted, these strategies may not work if it’s your boss who’s the jerk.)
If the behavior you’re contending with is beyond what you can handle (or tolerate), you might want to talk to your manager or HR. Keep in mind, though, that very few people are full-fledged jerks. If somebody annoys you at work, consider talking with the person privately. Describe the specific behavior you’re concerned about, how it affects you, and the change you’d like to see. If you do this respectfully, it just might work, and you’d have one fewer aggravation to deal with.
How do you cope with the jerks in your workplace?