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. All of these office jerks are Actively Disengaged employees whose behaviors contribute to their coworkers’ depression, anxiety, health problems, despair, and insomnia. The workplace negativity becomes even more palpable if the jerk is one’s manager or a member of Senior Management.
Furthermore, the jerk’s toxic behavior becomes contagious, infecting many others who may begin mistreating others as well. In addition, the watercooler gossip mongering 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.1 Let’s just say that it is not an accident that a relatively recent New York Times Best Seller was called “The No Asshole Rule.” See my related and very relevant blog on The 19 Traits Of A Horrible Boss.
So what does one do when faced with having to work with an office jerk? Here are 5 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 most simple and effective solution.
2. Document and report the jerk’s behaviors and actions. First, tell your boss and ask for his or her help. Second, report the toxic behavior to the Human Resources department, especially if the behaviors conflict with the organization’s policies, mission, and values. Save all emails and voicemails so you have evidence in writing. In short, ask for help.
3. Re-frame the jerk’s behavior into a less threatening and 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 akin to: “I’m going to kick this cancer’s ass.”
Emotional detachment via protective reframing allows you to tune out and become emotionally distant from the jerks. It has also been scientifically proven that when people reframe current difficulties into the distant future, they experience less depression, sadness, guilt, and anxiety.2
If you work with an office jerk, try any of the following examples of reframing their negativity:
– Feel sorry for the jerk. “There must be something really horrible going on in their personal life.”
– “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 towards 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 them 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 schmuck! If crass or judgmental comments have gone too far lately and you are indeed 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.
1 – Zogby Analytics/Workplace Bullying Institute Online Survey, 2014. Note that “Bullying” was defined as these types of workplace mistreatment: abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage, or verbal abuse.
2 – University of California – Berkley Psychology Study, 2014