Take The High Road: 8 Ways To Triumph Over Work Jerks
Chances are we all have them. People we work with, for and interact with professionally who snap, belittle, demean or shoot microaggressions your way or the way of whomever they choose.
It’s one thing to advise someone how to recover from a single blow to the ego dashed off in a meeting.
It’s quite another to consistently dodge the barbs, slings and arrows of outrageous behavior without getting in the mud yourself. So how do you consistently rise above the mudslinging?
Adam Grant writes in the New York Times. “But sometimes you’re stuck dealing with a certified jerk, someone who consistently demeans and disrespects others. Research on the psychology of certified jerks reveals that they have a habit of rationalizing aggression. They’ve convinced themselves that they have to act that way to get the results they want.”
Grant spoke with Sheila Heen, a conflict mediation expert, for his WorkLife podcast. “She suggested finding a way to gently challenge the belief that aggression is necessary: ‘Really? It was my impression that you were smarter than that, and more creative than that — so I bet you could come up with some other ways to be just as clear without having to actually rip somebody else apart.’”
Here are eight ways you can handle yourself and rise above the disrespect.
Do not respond in kind. The best way to handle someone who is known to lean towards the unkind is to never dip into that area yourself and know that your restraint matters. “While we all have individual personalities – some more endearing than others, make no mistake your likability in the workplace can and likely will have a significant impact on your career trajectory. People just tend to gravitate to and rally around those who are likable and the office jerk is anything but. Likability may not be a skill you can learn in school, but it’s definitely a valuable quality in the workplace,” Dana Brownlee, keynote speaker/corporate trainer and author of The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up: Project Management Techniques from the Trenches, writes in Forbes.
Remind colleagues of respectful boundaries. Yes, it is helpful to have policies in place, visible and sent out as reminders of expectations of how colleagues will deal with each other. “You need to communicate, communicate and communicate again. Let your teammates and colleagues know what you need and what you expect. You want to set expectations from the outset, so everyone is on the same page, and there is no room for confusion or deniability. You should also be open, transparent and honest. While there are times it is not the easiest thing to do, the payoff is huge and will keep things running smoothly,” John Couris, President and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, writes in Becker’s Hospital Review.
No one is immune from the rules. Even the superstars or the top administrators should not be excluded from behaving respectfully. Include all behaviors in 360-degree performance feedback and reviews. “Even when people behave like jerks to others, they often won’t display those behaviors in front of their managers. However, by obtaining input from all relevant stakeholders, a manager can get a better picture of how her direct reports interact with others. Evaluating competencies can also help, and it is particularly important to have a competency framework that includes things like teamwork, customer service, management and leadership and the development of others. All of those competencies relate to how people work with and treat others,” according to HR Reporter.
Be compassionate. “As easy as it can be to forget, even the most unaware among us are still human. If we remember this, instead of flying off the handle when they’re behaving badly, we can recognize that, at the core, their unaware behavior is a sign that they are struggling. We can adopt the mindset of compassion without judgment,” writes Tasha Eurich in Harvard Business Review. She adds, “Researchers have found that honing our compassion skills helps us remain calm in the face of difficult people and situations. As management professor Hooria Jazaieri points out, “There are [negative] consequences…when we are…thinking bad thoughts about someone — compassion allows us to let them go.’”
Act quickly. Stanford University professor Robert Sutton, tells ABC News, “Document what’s been happening, and consider who you’re fighting and how much power you have.” You can tell the person that what he or she has done is not acceptable and if nothing improves, then collaborate with others and take it tone or a few steps further. “People always wonder, well, it seems like nobody says anything and then everybody says everything all at once. There really is strength in numbers — there is both protection and power,” Sutton says.
Be aware of your own behaviors. Don’t laugh when someone is unkind at another’s expense and don’t pile on any poor choices in language or actions. “In our nearly five-year research program on the subject, we’ve discovered that although 95 percent of people think they’re self-aware, only 10 to 15 percent actually are,” writes Eurich in HBR. “The biggest difference between the unaware and the Aware-Don’t-Care are their intentions: the unaware genuinely want to be collaborative and effective, but don’t know they’re falling short. Whereas the Aware-Don’t-Care unapologetically acknowledge their behavior.”
You can quit. Some dynamics may just be permanent. I recently met an accountant at an event who said the place she worked for years was toxic to everyone. So she decided to start a financial consulting business on her own. This is of course difficult to do and not feasible in many cases. But if you have some financial reserves and can take the time to find another position or create your own, it may be your best bet.
Karma does arrive eventually. If you behave respectfully and with integrity throughout your career, colleagues remember. Just as they remember those who don’t. It may be small consolation if you are suffering a complete jerk right now, but according to Grant in the NYT, “One study showed that on days when leaders acted abusively, they ended up feeling less competent and less respected at work — and had more trouble relaxing at home.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com