Welcome, friend, to Jerk City.
The jerks who run Jerk City have created a living hell hole of abuse and dysfunction, but to you, it’s just “the place I work.”
Of course, your workplace may be 100 percent jerk free, but I doubt it, and so does Stanford professor Robert Sutton, author of “The A–hole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People who Treat You Like Dirt.” I discovered this essential self-help book in “A Field Guide to Jerks at Work,” an article in The Washington Post by Jena McGregor.
According to McGregor, “the abusive bosses, uncivil co-workers and tyrannical teammates who populate office cube farms are not all the same — and require different responses.”
The one universal solution to a jerk at work is to quit your job. Alas, this may not be possible if you find yourself addicted to eating regularly. For those of us who can’t take flight, there is only one alternative — fight!
It may not seem possible, but with hard work and consistent effort you can become an even bigger jerk yourself.
Consider the “bosshole.”
A bosshole is a jerk with real power over you and your co-workers. Sutton suggests that you keep your job, but transfer to a team that appears to be bosshole-free. That’s probably not the case, but it will give you the opportunity to take on the bosshole position yourself.
Another species of work jerk is the “powerful bully.”
This is someone with skills so unique and so important that they get away with jerkish behavior.
In other words, every single person in the information technology department.
Unfortunately, the rapid advance of mind-numbing technology will continue to provide the IT people with enough clout to bully you until the android cows come home. The only solution is to unplug. Turn off your computer. Disconnect your phone. Abandon email.
Instead, send all work-related communications by U.S. mail. This will not only bring a leisurely pace to your workflow, what there is of it, but also free you from the need for IT support.
Assuming, of course, you do not need a cloud-based dynamic permissions enabler with voice-activation and facial recognition to remind you to buy stamps.
The “clueless jerk” is a jerk who is “simply not aware how much their rude remarks or short-tempered outbursts can hurt other people.”
The advice for dealing with a clueless jerk is to alert them to their jerky behavior. But tread lightly. Christine Porath, a Georgetown University jerkologist, cautions you to start the jerk intervention “by listing a fault of your own.”
For those of us without faults, this strategy requires inventing a fault to use as an opening gambit. I suggest you use a fault you confessed in your initial job interview — working too hard or caring too much. Or, if you’d prefer to use a fault absolutely everyone will believe, confess to your addiction to “Young Sheldon.”
That should keep your jerk — and everyone else in the company — far, far away.
The “petty tyrants” are workers who “lack prestige but have influence over the day-to-day details of work.” To compensate, these jerks tie your hands with red tape “to make themselves feel in some control and perhaps exact a little bit of revenge.”
Fighting back against a petty tyrant is beyond the skills of even the most savvy students of jerkdom. Instead, you are encouraged to provide these jerks with a dollop of the respect they crave by giving into their demands. I disagree. If a clerk in the accounting department decides that you did not need to go from Denver to Des Moines by way of Paris, show your respect by offering to cut the tyrant in on your scam.
“Perhaps that Paris trip will make more sense,” you say, “when you find five pounds of Bleu d ‘Auvergne in your bottom desk drawer.”
(If you do use the hidden French cheese strategy, tell the recipient immediately. The desirability of this bribe may diminish if it goes undiscovered for a week.)
The “overbearing client” is a jerk who can’t be easily managed.
Still, there is much to learn from overbearing clients. Their own work environments may be even more toxic than your own, creating a workplace Galapagos, where evolution has created a unique breed of super-jerk.
Adopt your client’s abusive behavior to make your own bad behavior even worse. After all, if you’re going to be a jerk, you might as well be a good one.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.