Coworkers as Jerks – What To Do

Coping With Jerks at Work


By Kate Lorenz, CareerBuilder.com Editor

According to an article in American Way, 42 percent of U.S. workers reported incidents of yelling and verbal abuse in their workplaces. What’s more, 30 percent of workers say they’ve yelled at their co-workers themselves!

Of course that doesn’t make all who admitted ranting at their colleagues full-time jerks. Gloria Elliott, an organizational development consultant who helps companies deal with insufferable employees through her “Jerk Training” seminars, estimates that just 10 percent of the workforce is comprised of evil, conniving weasels; the rest are redeemable individuals who just have bad moments.

For example, that guy in the next cube who deletes your jobs on the shared printer so that his pages get printed first may simply be clueless or under extreme pressure from the higher-ups.

On the other hand, the woman who acts nice when you’re in private, but continually puts you or your ideas down in meetings and in front of the higher-ups probably has more insidious motives.

In either case, don’t take what they do to heart.

“Most of us think 99 percent of what other people do or say has to do with us personally,” says Dr. John Schinnerer, a University of California, Berkeley psychologist who lectures and writes about creating and maintaining a healthy and efficient workplace.

“The reality is that only about 1 percent [of others’ behavior] has anything to do with us. Understand that difficult people are in a different place from you; don’t let bad behavior get in your way or hold you hostage from achieving success.

“Take some deep breaths and shrug off their obnoxious behavior, knowing that some day (hopefully soon) they will get their comeuppance.”

However if someone is spreading rumors about you, back-stabbing or routinely verbally abusing you, most experts agree it’s best to confront him or her calmly, privately and briefly.

Make it clear you will not tolerate their behavior. It can be as simple as looking them in the eye and saying, “You presented my idea as your own. Don’t ever do that again.” Or, “You insulted me in front of the entire staff. I don’t appreciate being treated that way.”

Then, stay away — you may even want to start documenting things the jerk says or does.

Avoid cutthroat individuals like the plague, Elliott advises. “They feel no guilt and don’t care whom they trample over in their race to get ahead. If you play their way you will lose the game, your mental health or both.”

What about reporting the behavior to the boss? Experts say this can be tricky and that people often don’t come forward because they fear how they’ll be characterized in the process.

Whether you can comfortably and effectively report workplace bullying depends on the culture of the company.

“Some organizations such as Proctor and Gamble, Southwest Airlines, Men’s Wearhouse and GE articulate the value of mutual respect from the top and make it clear bad behavior will not be tolerated,” says Robert Sutton, professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. “Others turn a blind eye to abuse if they’re happy with the results the bully is producing.”

If you’re in a toxic work environment, experts recommend you get out as soon as possible. “Bad behavior not only damages your soul, it can be contagious. I always tell people if you’re with a company and don’t like the way people there act, watch out, because you will become like that,” Sutton says.

What if you can’t quit and your attempts to ignore, confront or report have failed? Carole, an administrative assistant, joined forces with her fellow workers to take matters in their own hands.

“A certain law associate would constantly yell and berate members of the support staff for being slow, stupid or lazy… basically making our days torture,” she recalls.

“Our complaints to management went ignored. But we decided as a group that we would no longer tolerate his abusive behavior. We began ‘accidentally’ losing his paycheck, giving him messages with wrong numbers and scheduling appointments incorrectly.

“Passive aggressive? Maybe. But it was effective: Within two weeks his tirades stopped and he was reformed.”

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