Hundreds of millions of workers worldwide dread going to work every day. But for those workers who have to work with a jerk or workplace bully, going to work is unbearable. These office jerks are actively disengaged employees whose behaviors contribute to their co-workers’ depression, anxiety, health problems, despair, and insomnia. The workplace negativity becomes even more palpable if the jerk is your manager or a member of senior management.
Worse still, the jerk’s toxic behavior becomes contagious, and others may begin mistreating their co-workers as well. In addition, watercooler gossip is equally infectious, resulting in incorrect and obnoxious rumors spreading like wildfire.
Sadly, workplace jerks and bullies are not uncommon. Forty-eight percent of workers report either having been bullied themselves or having witnessed workplace bullying. Let’s just say that it is not an accident that a relatively recent New York Times bestseller was called The No Asshole Rule. See my related blog on 19 Ways to Be a Bad Boss.
So what do you do when faced with having to work with an office jerk? Here are five proven solutions:
1. Keep your distance.Taking on the workplace bully is a very risky business, as most of these jerks are highly manipulative, cunning, and crafty in the most negative possible sense. Staying away from the intolerable jerk is the simplest, most effective solution.
2. Document and report the jerk’s behaviors and actions.First, tell your boss and ask for their help. Second, report the toxic behavior to the human resources department, especially if the behaviors conflict with your organization’s policies, mission, and values. Save all emails and voicemails so you have evidence in writing. In short, ask for help.
3. Reframe the jerk’s behavior into a less threatening, more positive light.This solution is exactly how cognitive behavioral therapists in healthcare help patients interpret their diseases and illnesses as realities that are less upsetting, or natural challenges to take on or beat. A great example is cancer patients who are taught to adopt a mindset that says, “I’m going to kick this cancer’s ass.”
Emotional detachment through protective reframing allows you to tune out and become emotionally distant from jerks. And, according to a 2014 University of California–Berkeley study, when people reframe current difficulties into the distant future, they experience less depression, sadness, guilt, and anxiety.
If you work with an office jerk, try any of the following examples to reframe their negativity:
Feel sorry for the jerk: “There must be something really horrible going on in their personal life.”
Contextualize the behavior:
- “He’s just being a jerk, and this is what jerks do.”
- “I know she can be a jerk, but I have learned quite a bit from her, particularly how not to treat others.”
Minimize the nastiness:
- “In the whole scheme of things, this is really a small matter. I’ve climbed higher mountains.”
- “This situation is not my fault and I’m not going to let it consume me.”
- “This too shall pass.”
4. Take a deep breath and go for a walk.Controlling your anger toward the jerk is critical to staying engaged and productive in your job. Let the person play the role of being the office jerk, and keep that role separate from your work role. To overcome the jerk’s nastiness, remember and embrace the aspects of your job and home life that make you happy. Vent about the jerk at home if necessary, which will help you release your workplace tension. One other obvious and viable alternative is to simply consider taking a different job somewhere else.
5. Kill them with kindness.Turn your torturer into a friend. Sure, you are pretending, but being extra nice completely throws the jerk off guard. When you take the high road and reflect niceness instead of nastiness, the jerk’s behavior only becomes more out of place. If passing them in the hallway, show the jerk a great smile and let out a nice, positive, “Good morning!” or “Hey, how’s your day going?”
Lastly, it is also important that you look in the mirror and be reflective—you might be the office jerk in someone else’s eyes! If crass or judgmental comments have gone too far lately and you have indeed been a jerk, it probably won’t be easy to admit it to others or yourself. However, it’s important that you take actions to correct your behavior before it’s too late. My friend Ana Dutra wrote a great book about this called Lessons in Leadershit: Detoxing the Workplace. This book helps you not only improve your working relationships with jerks and bullies, but teaches you how to avoid becoming a jerk or bully yourself.
Note: This blog post was adapted from Kevin Sheridan’s post, “5 Ways to Work With the Jerk in Your Office.”