Problem People: How to Deal with Jerks at Work

Do you work with any jerks? Sometimes you can’t help but categorize problem people that way. They are ego-driven and selfish and it’s hard to know what to do, isn’t it?

I realize that it’s not fair to call people names, but sometimes there’s just no other way to explain bad behavior.  Here’s my story, and how I accidentally found a solution.

Whenever discussion comes up about people and character, I can’t help but think about “Ralph.” This is not his real name, of course. (And if any of you reading this are called Ralph, my apologies.) Ralph represents the one person I had to work with that I really couldn’t stand.

We head-butted over everything. We got off to a bad start the first day we were assigned to team up. This guy was a know-it-all. Totally lacking in empathy, he felt compelled to let you know how others were unfair or inadequate, while explaining his accomplishments.

An example: If I said I had a hard time with a report, had a bad drive into work, my cousin had cancer and my dog was sick, he’d reply almost before I  finished my sentence that he had no problem with his report, his drive was worse, he had an uncle with cancer and he didn’t like dogs.

I immediately judged him as being a jerk and tried to avoid talking thereafter. I mean who wouldn’t? I felt justified because he wasn’t just egocentric with me, he was that way with everybody. Anyone who doesn’t care about others and who is that inconsiderate is a real jerk in my book.

Anyway, don’t get me started. I was forced to work side-by-side with the guy for several months and it drove me crazy. The only person who suffered was me because I was new on the job and wanted to successfully navigate the waters without making too big of an issue. I suffered in silence trying to think of what I could say that would be effective.

I had to find a solution. Confront him? I didn’t think he would get it and it might make things worse. I talked to others in the office, and they confirmed this would be true. He was well-known as a difficult person to work with and nobody had any suggestions.

I found the answer by accident. One day I complimented him. I noticed a small thing he had done right and let him know I appreciated it. His face lit up. He calmed down. Overnight he seemed to get better. I guess he was so busy trying to impress me in his own twisted way, that he kept talking about himself. Once he felt recognized he wasn’t so intense.

He was still a jerk, but he was a calmer one and I didn’t feel so put upon. The strange thing was I got better. I stopped wasting so much energy on seeing his ego-driven attempts and making a note of what was wrong with him.

Have you ever had to work with a jerk? Then you know how much of an energy drain it is. They bring out the worst in you, and you’re the one that ends up feeling negative. It’s not a good way to do your best work. And finding a way to appreciate them isn’t easy.

Appreciation is probably one of the biggest weapons you can take to work. No matter what position you’re in, no matter what kind of people you work with. Finding something worthy to mention, big or small, works wonders to bring out the best in people.

On the other hand, judging people is one of the worst ways to create good working relationships. There is no way one can turn off judging others, it’s part of what makes us human. But there are ways to turn off the automatic negative-seeking radar.

When I judged Ralph as a jerk, I started seeing everything he said as jerk-like. I stopped asking him questions to try to understand him better. I stopped listening to him. I missed opportunities to help him because I judged him.

Servant leaders see people as people. They appreciate and value the skills and character traits each person brings to the table, even if they don’t happen to like them. They set aside differences or actively seek to reconcile those differences.

Research shows that we move in the direction of that which we study. If we pay attention to something, we tend to see more of it. When I saw the dark side of Ralph, I started thinking like him, and I became more ego-protective and judgmental myself. It doesn’t make much sense to focus on the negative if you want to move in the direction of the positive, does it?

What do you think about this? Are there any “Ralphs” in your work space?

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