November 18, 2013
5 tactics for dealing with office jerks
I'm always surprised by how often I'm asked for tactics to deal with people who are jerks at work. Given the number of times I'm asked that question, it makes me wonder about our basic understanding of proper office behavior (or lack thereof) and our ability to act appropriately in work situations.
The best way to deal with jerks at work (such as gossipy or bossy co-workers) is to first ensure that you aren't actually one of them; always be as professional as possible. Avoid office gossip and be respectful of peers and managers. This will help you establish your reputation as a consummate professional who does not condone bad behavior.
Beyond that, here are five tactics to try:
Ignore them. Unfortunately, this works for only so long, so the best tactic is often to approach them directly.
The professional, low-key approach. It's best to do this in private, where you can speak confidentially. Approach the jerk in a friendly manner and focus on his or her specific behavior: "Chris, did you realize when you made those comments about Julie in front of the group at lunch that you put her in an awkward position, and also made many people at lunch uncomfortable, including me? I wanted you to realize this because I wasn't sure that's what you meant to do."
Sometimes people don't realize how their behavior affects others or is being perceived until someone points it out.
The "professional but direct" approach. Approach the jerk in a confidential and professional manner, but be even more direct with your comments: "Chris, I didn't appreciate your comments during lunch today. The things you said about Julie were uncalled for and inappropriate. You crossed the line of what is considered professional and ethical business behavior."
Use this approach if you've already tried the low-key approach and it didn't work.
The "you are an HR person's worst nightmare" approach. Sometimes it takes a little creativity to shake a person back to reality: "Wow, Chris, it's a good thing no one from HR was at the table today at lunch, or right now security would be escorting you from the building. Do you realize how many employment laws you broke? Dude, you are an HR person's worst nightmare; I feel for you with all the lawsuits you're going to rack up during your career from pissed-off co-workers."
This approach shakes people back to reality without sounding too harsh. A friend of mine calls this the "frontal attack" and swears it works like a charm.
The "last straw" approach. For the jerks who won't stop after all other approaches and "please stop" requests have failed: "Chris, this is the third time I've politely asked you to stop your behavior, which is crossing the line when it comes to work. One more time and I'll be forced to either file an HR complaint about your unprofessional conduct or speak with your manager."
Don't issue this warning unless you're willing to follow up on it. When you know the person's behavior is an HR issue, keep a log of dates, times, places, behaviors, comments made and the people who witnessed it. This can be helpful to HR professionals if they need to conduct an investigation.
No matter how you decide to handle an office jerk, always try to do so with professionalism, respect and a calm demeanor.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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