Ever had a conversation with a colleague where you walk away thinking, “Whoa, that person was a real jerk.” Turns out you’re not alone.
These head honcho, give-me-your-lunch-money-type personalities are not only affecting high school hallways, they’re invading our office culture.
A study by Connectria Hosting revealed that a whopping 83% of respondents say they’ve worked with one or more jerks during the past five years and 34% say working with jerks prevented them from getting work done.
Here are the facts: workplace jerks are a business problem, not an HR problem. Rudeness in the workplace creates a negative culture, decreases production of output, and lowers morale.
And the problem is only getting worse: the number of workers who report being treated rudely by a coworker at least once a month is now 62% — up 13% since 1998.
So, what do we do about it?
How to Avoid Hiring a Workplace Jerk
A good approach to dealing with workplace jerks is simply avoid hiring them in the first place. This may seem a bit obvious, but you’d be surprised how some jerks look great on paper but end up having poor people skills.
How do you know someone is a jerk before actually hiring them? Think beyond the limits of a formal interview. Invite the person to attend a social setting in the office and see how they interact with other employees. Maybe invite them out to an office happy hour or team dinner. This will allow more people to weigh in on how they fit within the culture.
If you’re looking to spend more one-on-one time with them, take them out to lunch or dinner and observe how they treat the wait staff. Are they polite and professional? Or condescending and disrespectful? Paying attention during these casual interactions can be telltale signs of how they might behave in an office.
Already Hired One? Here’s How to Handle It
Not all is lost if you interact with a toxic personality on a regular basis. Follow these helpful tips for getting through the day with a jerk in your team.
1. Don’t quit.
If you work with this person on a regular basis —say if they’re your direct manager, direct report, or teammate — you might be tempted to leave your job. (After all, most people leave their bosses, not their jobs.)
However, the chances of you encountering a jerk at another job is not exactly lower. According to Stanford Professor, Robert Sutton: “Nasty behavior spreads much faster than nice behavior, unfortunately. Literally like a common cold.” So don’t give up thinking the grass is greener elsewhere. Instead…
2. Confront the negativity, don’t ignore it.
The common goal of most ill-mannered employees is to evoke some kind of reaction — whether it be good or bad.
“You can’t ignore a jerk’s behavior because it will get worse until he gets your attention,” says Dr. Ken Lloyd, Ph.D. in organizational behavior and author of Jerks at Work: How to Deal With People Problems and Problem People. “Typically, jerks engage in bad behavior to get a reaction, and they’ll just turn up the volume until they get to you.”
One positive reaction is to set up a meeting and exchange honest feedback. To ensure it doesn’t feel like a one-sided attack, share what you think is working well, what you think could be improved, and allow the other person to do the same for your performance. Since you expect them to take your feedback seriously, take theirs seriously as well.
Just keep these tips in mind during your meeting:
- Keep calm. If you’re agitated, you will resolve nothing.
- Stay alert! If you’re attentive, you can read the situation and interpret verbal and nonverbal communication.
- Communicate without threatening. Speak quietly but with confidence. Don’t allow the conversation to escalate into anger. Don’t forget that your nonverbal communication is as important as your words.
- Respect all differences. Keep your language and your tone neutral, and avoid disrespectful words. You won’t solve problems by calling them “jerks.”
- Use humor, carefully. A well-timed, non-insulting joke can defuse a situation faster than anything. But it’s a gamble.
- Be generous. Keep in mind that resolving any conflict is more important for the working relationship than “winning” the fight. Which is why generosity is needed. Know when to let go of grudges. Know when to forgive and forget. Learn to hear the apology that was never said.
Here are more tips on conflict resolution.
3. Find their motivation.
Figure out what their underlying motivation is and do your best to stay out of their way. What do they want? Can you help them achieve that (or at least get out of the way) to shield yourself from their negative behavior?
The good news is, these individuals don’t last forever. They move on, and so should you. So ride it out, adapt to the situation, focus on doing your best, and remain positive. This might just be your best strategy.
Don’t Let Them Win
As intimidating and annoying as they are, workplace jerks aren’t going anywhere. Learning to deal with them is just one of those essential experiences that we eventually adapt to and grow from.
Try to remember that although you can’t control the behavior of others, you can control how you react to it. Your personal best is always under your control, so resist the temptation to follow suit and focus on doing your best work.