How to cope when you work with a jerk
We’ve all been there. In every workplace, you find co-workers who are difficult to deal with, bully others and make everyone’s life miserable. When you face a challenging customer, that’s bad enough, but at least you don’t have to work with them all day, every day. When it’s someone on your team, you really need to find some effective coping skills to get you through the day.
There’s the type of jerk who acts one way when the boss is around and does a complete turnaround when he/she’s gone. And it can drive you nuts when the boss doesn’t see this behavior and then singles the jerk out for a “job well done.” It might help to recognize where this Jekyll and Hyde routine is coming from.
According to an article by Amy Jen Su, leadership and executive coach, there are three ways this type of behavior typically shows up. Maybe you recognize one of these:
- The “big talker” who has lots of ideas and is very engaging, but never takes on the dirty work or any big task. He talks a good game but never does any work.
- The friendly, “fake” good team member who is supportive and complimentary, but goes behind your back to the boss to complain about you.
- The “charming and respectful to the boss” employee who becomes curt and rude to team members when the boss leaves the room.
When you’re faced with one of these scenarios, Amy Jen Su shares 3 recommendations to help you cope:
1. Realize it’s not about you. It’s really about this person’s lack of self-awareness and insecurity. It’s almost never an attempt to be evil, but is often a desire to impress the boss.
2. Don’t play the game. Is this behavior just driving you crazy or is it really affecting your ability to do your job? No need to join in the “badmouthing” and complaining about this person. Most good bosses eventually realize what’s happening.
3. Have a private conversation with the offending colleague. Don’t take it public – that usually backfires. Try to come to an understanding, even if you decide to just avoid each other as much as possible.
Of course, if the problem is escalating, you don’t see any positive change and your work is suffering, you may need to carefully bring it to the boss. You run the risk of becoming known as “a problem child” if nothing ever gets resolved, so you need to focus your comments on the work and remain calm. Sometimes the best you can do is find a balance between being assertive when possible and laying low when it’s not.
Here are a few other tips to help you avoid exploding in a rant. There’s no need to suffer silently. It’s best to address the problem, one-on-one in a timely way.
- Cool off before you confront the jerk/bully. When you’re calm, you’ll be able to react in a mature way. You want to be assertive but reasonable. Believe it or not, a large percentage of these people have no idea how their behavior affects those around them. Since many people fear confrontation, no one calls them on it.
- If/when the offender apologizes, move on and let it go. Be the better person, make a truce and keep it professional.
- Document the evidence in case you cannot resolve the conflict and need to bring it up to the boss.
- If appropriate, use the situation to improve yourself. It might be a rare opportunity to evaluate what went wrong and learn a different way to work with difficult people in the future.
Above all else, if the situation doesn’t get resolved and you find yourself dreading work and losing sleep, it’s time to move on. Even if you don’t have another job lined up and the rent is due, it’s not worth risking your health and sanity.
If you cannot get this resolved, it’s possible the company culture is somehow supporting this behavior. It’s unfortunate, because it seems like quitting equals failing. But you have to learn to stand your ground and get out with your health intact. Sometimes the only same solution is to leave and find a better situation elsewhere.