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Jerks come in many forms in the workplace, from bosses, to colleagues, to clients.

If you were to put on binoculars and, like a birder, study them in the field, executive coach Peter Economy says you will find 16 species, including: the Pessimist, who sees flaws in everyone and everything; the Intimidator, who uses aggression or the threat of aggression; the Credit Thief, who loves accolades and swipes credit from others; the Gossiper, who enjoys drama and therefore spreads gossip with delight; the Lazy One, who does the bare minimum; the Narcissist, who needs to be the centre of attention; the Complainer, the office crybaby; the Backstabber, who reveals personal information or casts blame on others; the Non-Responder, who whatever you ask says little to nothing; and The Chatterer, who will routinely stop by your desk and talk forever.

You may have noticed some – perhaps many – of those species in your workplace. Some may be tolerable, the benefits they offer outweighing their personality quirks. But others are not quirky but jerky. They can drive you nuts.

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Mr. Economy offers strategies in his book Wait, I’m Working with Who?!? to neutralize the effect they might otherwise have on you:

  • Disconnect from emotions: When you react to whatever game the jerk is playing, you are giving that person some measure of control over you. They probably like to push your buttons, so refuse to get caught up in the emotions they spawn. Step out of your situation and look at the behaviour from afar.
  • Refuse to play their game: Figure out what motivates the jerk and, more specifically, how their toxic game manipulates you. Try to figure out what buttons they are pushing, and do everything you can to remove those entry points to your emotions. If you can, also get the jerk out of your life.
  • Learn how to neutralize conflict: If the conflict reaches a high level, with people at war with each other, you need to be pro-active in dealing with it – even if it involves your boss. Again this requires watching, observing the emotions, figuring out the needs underlying it all, and then encouraging others to understand the impact of their behaviour. Not easy, but essential.
  • Challenge bad behaviour: One of the biggest mistakes he has seen is people trying to ignore the jerks and their behaviour, not wanting to get on that person’s bad side. “When you don’t confront the person or address their bad behaviour, then the jerk at work will often take advantage of the situation and keep behaving badly,” he warns.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff: Don’t stress out or be overly critical about a co-worker’s behaviour unless it causes a significant, negative impact in the office. You can’t treat all bad behaviour equally; they vary in their negative impact.
  • Learn by negative examples: Avoid doing what the jerks in your office do. “By observing them, you’ll be able to understand what kind of behaviours you might yourself engage in that are hurting the people, teams and customers you’re working with,” he says.

So revisit the field guide to jerks at work, and consider where you might have tendencies towards such behaviour. Don’t be a jerk yourself. And if you’re a boss, he recommends hiring slowly to reduce the chance of bringing jerks on board and firing fast when you get it wrong.

Quick hits

  • Procrastination’s close cousin is fear, says consultant Steve Keating. Often it’s the fear of failure, preventing you from acting. Laziness can have a role in procrastination as well but he suggests it’s only a distant relative not a close cousin like fear.
  • Building trust can be more difficult when you’ve joined a team working remotely. Focus on displaying competence; benevolence, taking other people’s needs to heart; and integrity, advises Ruchi Sinha, a management professor at the University of South Australia Business School, Adelaide, based on her research.
  • Ottawa sales consultant Colleen Francis has had a number of clients who recently lost business without seeing it coming because they didn’t have enough contacts inside their accounts to have an accurate picture of what was happening. She urges you to have a minimum of four contacts in the firm who will return your calls and help you understand the situation.
  • Venture capitalist Ben Casnocha notes we have all benefited from Zoom meetings, realizing how often we travelled unnecessarily in the past to meet with others. He doubts we’ll go back to having as many in-person meetings when more normal operations return. At the same time, we’ll also realize how unsatisfying so many of the video calls have been and delight at the richness of being in person.
  • Marshall McLuhan famously said the medium is the message. Management consultant Luke Sheppard argues it still is and so you need to carefully consider what medium you choose based on the number of people you are reaching out to, the complexity of the message, and the impact you want it to have. Your message depends on your medium.

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