Working Wounded Blog: The Jerk at Work

News Flash: Accused steroid user Rafael Palmeiro accused a teammate of giving him the steroid that made him fail his drug test.

Believe it or not, Palmeiro's travails with steroids can teach us all important lessons about how to deal with a jerk at work. But first, as they say in baseball, let's recap the story for those who have been focused on stuff more important than sports for the last month.

Early this year Palmeiro testified in front of Congress, saying, "I have never used steroids, period. I do not know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never." The Viagra spokesman and former Hall of Fame candidate promptly failed a drug test several months later and was suspended for 10 days. Did he come clean and admit that he used steroids? Did he play the sympathy card and go on Dr. Phil's TV show to admit his problem and ask for forgiveness? No.

Instead, he fingered popular teammate Miguel Tejada claiming that he'd given him the banned substance. Tejada said that he'd simply given Palmeiro vitamin B-12, which helps to maintain red blood cells and nerve cells. It is clear that Palmeiro didn't really need the vitamin after all, because when it comes to "nerve" he's got an abundant supply.

Palmeiro is the embodiment of the old Bob Dylan song lyric, "cares not to lift you up any higher, but rather get you down in the hole that he's in." And that is the biggest problem with dealing with a jerk at work. They have extraordinary energy to put into finger-pointing in every direction except in the one that really matters; toward themselves.

From Richard Nixon to Martha Stewart, Palmeiro never learned the dangers of trying to cover something up once you've broken the rules. Take Stewart (please!). Prosecutors decided it would be too difficult to bring her up on charges of insider trading after a gain on the sale of a stock. But it was relatively easy for the Feds to show that she'd conspired to cover up the "crime."

Sure Rafael, your drug use would probably end your chances at a spot in the Hall of Fame. But you would be far from alone, given the number of apparently steroid-deprived-and-suddenly-shrinking baseball players throughout the major leagues. But Palmeiro decided to try to pin it on someone else, a decision that one teammate called being a "coward."

What is the lesson here for the rest of us? Never underestimate a jerk's ability to play the blame game. Always assume the worst and create a paper trail to protect yourself when you think someone has the potential to pull a Palmeiro at work. Also, note that Tejada was quick to challenge Palmeiro's accusation. The worst thing you can do is to let the jerk pin his problems on your shoulders and not respond.

A jerk-free workplace would sure be nice. But it only exists in our dreams. You've got to keep an eye out for jerks and have a plan to challenge them, or you could be wallowing in the mud with them.

Quote of the week:
"Does he have 17 years of experience or one year of experience 17 times?" -- Paul Wiesenfeld

Weekly book excerpt:
From "21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com" by Mike Daisey (Free Press, 2002)

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