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I was talking with a young professional recently who was considering abandoning her lifelong career goal – for one simple reason. She was just beginning to dip her feet into this professional arena and she was simply tired of more than one jerk at work. They weren’t people who were breaking any particular laws or violating ethical boundaries. They were just arrogant ego heads, completely uninterested in her young perspective. What a shame!!

Put aside the disappointment and lack of support that she is feeling. Ask yourself if you also have gone through times when you were simply exhausted from working with a jerk at work? Is it too much to ask business and professional people to behave a little better?

When this COVID crisis eases and people return to offices will we find that people have evolved into kinder people, or will the reverse be true? There is no question in my mind that many people have been changed by the WFH experience. But I suspect that they haven’t all suddenly become kinder, gentler, and more collaborative.

I don’t want to suggest that we would be better served by a milquetoast type of niceness in our organizations. Running a business is hard work. It takes people who can make tough decisions and have difficult conversations. Can well-educated executives, often raised in privileged circumstances, be those fearless leaders who are able to analyze tough situations and make hard decisions and still be collaborative and supportive?

In this blog, I offer five suggestions to help you direct your energies wisely if you are stuck with a jerk at work.

A caveat

Again, let me reiterate the need to involve HR if there is true bullying or harassment going on. But I’m really writing about people who have so much confidence in their own abilities that it’s just plain hard for them to accept that other people could be of value to them. The confidence may well be a complete act. They may be horribly insecure and acting like a confident jerk. The point is the same. These kinds of people suck the energy out of those around them. And more significantly, good people often leave because of them. So, what can you do?

5 tips to remember when managing a jerk at work #smartprojex #jerkatwork #team Click To Tweet

1. Start by giving others the benefit of the doubt.

I remember being told this when I was much younger and feeling very frustrated by a particular person in my life. And an older, wiser person told me that I should start by believing that people are doing the best they can. She said I could not possibly know and understand all of the demands, pains, experiences, and scars that other people had.

Now that I’ve lived a lot longer, I understand just how much those life experiences, histories, and influences impact our behavior. And I now agree that we all just need to begin by giving others the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time, people are doing the best they can, given the cards they have been dealt.

We simply don’t know what kinds of pains, traumas, insecurities, financial worries, security concerns, competitive movements, sleepless nights, or other demands they face.

2. Get to know the jerk at work.

You may learn valuable things about the person that help you understand where he or she is coming from. When you are working with really smart people, they are often quick thinkers, may have a dry and/or intellectual sense of humor, and can enjoy a certain repartee with others who are willing to engage. They can seem condescending without meaning to be.

Ask them questions about themselves and/or their families. Write down or remember the names of their children and grandchildren and ask follow-up questions as time goes on. Grandparents and parents love being asked about how little Sammy’s soccer game went.

I confess that I find it incredibly frustrating to spend an entire evening having dinner with someone who talks only about himself or herself. But I try to listen and make mental notes if it’s someone who I plan to see again. Because if you engage for long enough, I have to believe that sooner or later they will become interested in what you are doing – particularly if you are working with them.

Ask them questions about matters that are open-ended and challenging. Be open to the idea of learning something from them.

Do you work with a jerk? Here are 5 ideas that may help! #smartprojex #jerkatwork #team Click To Tweet

3. Remember that attitude is everything.

Years ago, my family enjoyed vacationing at a camp that printed t-shirts with Attitude is Everything on them. It’s true. And it’s forgotten easily in the hustle and bustle of trying to navigate life and work. Adopt the most positive, collaborative attitude you can. And encourage others to join you.

If you work on a team and someone is rubbing you the wrong way, perhaps you can have a conversation that starts with something like: how can we collaborate more effectively? Or, what can I do to help us work better together? Maybe, depending on the conversation, you can ask if they would like some constructive feedback? I wouldn’t start there with a colleague that I didn’t know very well.

If you’d like more help on this tip, check out my blog on team attitudes.

4. Believe in yourself

This may be harder for people with a lot of insecurities, or who don’t have the education level or the sheer IQ of the jerk at work. There are tons of videos on YouTube and quotes on the internet that are designed to lift people up. Spend five or ten minutes each day getting inspired. Much of your success in business is figuring out what works and what doesn’t. The same is true of personal development. Some people are better off reading an inspirational blog or book, others just need to meditate, and others find the visual stimulation of a video more helpful. Some need to actually dig in and learn a new skillset. At various points, all of these will likely be needed.

If you are still struggling, remember that we are all alike in many ways. We all bleed if we are cut and feel pain and trauma. If you are approaching a difficult situation or a presentation and you are anxious, “take your inspiration from an humble jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise. Keep cool and don’t freeze.” (I’ll thank my husband’s unnamed law school professor for this one.)

Don’t be too impressed by the reputation of the college. Yes, the Ivy Leagues have educated many fine people. But so have a host of other lesser-known institutions. Some people have had it easier than others. Get over it. Move on. This is your time to build your brand, be your best self, and polish your edges.

5. Focus on your own needs

When all else fails, look in the mirror and understand that you’re looking at the only person you can change. Spending hours trying to help someone else who is not interested in changing is a waste of time. So instead, focus on how to help yourself. That may mean spending a little less time with the jerk at work, if you can. Or taking advantage of opportunities to improve your physical, mental, and emotional health. Or increasing your network of friends. I’m not talking about social media friends. I’m talking about real friends – the kind with which you share activities, meals, and conversations.

Learn how to tell your story. When you start building relationships with others, even jerks, try to realize that you too have some great school, life, or family stories. Learn to tell those stories. Yes, people may not be interested now. Understand that many of us were raised to specifically not talk about ourselves. But we all have valuable histories and perspectives that the world needs to hear and that we need to be curious about in others.

Spend more time in nature. Even the American Heart Association has stressed how important nature is for relieving stress and anxiety. If you can’t get out at lunch, spend some time over the weekend reconnecting with nature and other people. Temporarily reduce your technology dependence. Sherry Turkle has written about the impact of cell phones on empathy, a soft skill that is desperately needed as we seek to improve working relationships with all kinds of people.

Closing thoughts

Finally, as you seek to better direct your energy in a constructive way to cope with a jerk at work, remember your team. It’s a collaborative effort. Work together and if you need a little help with this or more technical aspects of project management, I’m here to help. Schedule a call for a quick chat.