Working Wounded: Jerk in the Office

Q U E S T I O N: I've got a co-worker who is a total jerk. I hate working with him, but we're on a project together and I have no clue on how to deal with him.

A N S W E R: The prime minister of Latvia recently announced the formation of an "anti-absurdity" bureau to deal with excessive government "foolishness" and the "laziness of civil servants. Currently in Riga, the capital, they're getting about 10 complaints a day.

Outside of Latvia, unfortunately, we're stuck dealing with our jerks on our own. And far too often Human Resources and our bosses aren't a help at all. I've listed strategies for dealing with a jerk at work below. For more, turn to Bev Kaye and Sharon Jordan's book Love It, Don't Leave It (Berrett Koehler, 2003).

Strategies For Improving Office Relations

What about the person makes them a jerk? Kaye includes a list of jerky behaviors including: intimidating, belittling, micromanaging and acting sexist or racist. Start by trying to figure out what exactly about the jerk's behavior is driving you crazy.

Can you get advice on how to deal with him?Look around your workplace to see if there are any people who've figured out how to work with your jerk. Offer to buy them a cup of coffee or lunch to pick their brains and learn strategies for coping with the jerk.

Can you talk to the jerk? Have you ever had a family member or friend tell you that something you did really bothered them? And it wasn't something that was relatively easy for you to stop doing? Maybe your jerk will just cut it out if you talk to him about it. Proceed with caution however; you don't want to become the jerk by lecturing him.

Can you change your behavior in order to change the jerk's? Most people respond favorably to getting more compliments, being given more control or being asked for their opinion. Come to think of it, this stuff works with people who aren't jerks. On another level, maybe you are doing things to bring out the jerk in them — trying to control their response, keeping them in the dark, not soliciting their feedback, etc. Explore what you might be able to do to make them less of a jerk.

Can you just accept him? I once saw a cartoon where one woman says to another, "he's perfect, now I'm trying to change him." Which raises an interesting question: can you just accept this person and not be focused on how much of a jerk he is?

Can you avoid him? I know you said that you have to work on a project with him but can you still minimize the time you spend with him? For example, can you do most of your discussions via e-mail? Or do you need to move to another assignment, one that won't require that you interact with him?

Follow these tips and avoid being jerked around in the future.

Online Ballot and Contest

Here are the results from a recent online ballot: Sorry we weren't able to get poll results last time. The poll will return next time.

Winning Strategy

Our winning strategy for trying to change someone's behavior comes from L.K. in Philadelphia, Pa. "I think before you try to change anyone else's behavior you need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask why are you trying to change their behavior? It is a dangerous path for you to go around. Ask yourself what is your motivation for trying to change them? What might you get out of it? Does anyone else share your concerns? Would you be better off changing your behavior?"

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Bob Rosner is a best selling author, speaker and internationally syndicated columnist. His newest best seller, GRAY MATTERS: The Workplace Survival Guide (Wiley, 2004), is a business comic book that trades cynicism for solutions. Ask Bob a question: or publishes a new Working Wounded column every Friday.