We’ve all been there, having to deal with a jerk in our place of work. Unless you’re in a senior leadership position, you may not be able to fire the office bully, but that doesn’t mean you should just ignore it.
An article in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that uncivil behavior in the workplace operates almost like the common cold, infecting people who spread it to others. Quite simply, this means a single jerk can have a cascade effect on your entire office.
Here are a few of the jerks you’re likely to encounter in the workplace, and some strategies for dealing with them. As you read through this list, try to keep an open mind — do you exhibit any of these traits?
The know-it-all jerk
This jerk often has a lot of industry experience, or a high degree of seniority within the company, even if they don’t hold a leadership position. They’re convinced that they know better than anyone else, and are quick to dismiss input or ideas from others.
The know-it-all jerk may believe they know how to do your job better than you, so they’re constantly butting in. They give unsolicited advice, and are always dropping hints that they know of a better way to get the job done.
This is one of the easier types of jerks to deal with, because they may not even realize that their actions are having a negative impact. The know-it-all jerk may be genuinely trying to help, the only way they know how. Politely tell them that you appreciate their willingness to help, but if you need their help, you know where to find them.
The bully jerk
This type of jerk is aggressive, and bolsters their own self-worth by putting others down. Some bully jerks may use outright confrontation as a means of establishing dominance over coworkers. Others may take a more subtle approach, using backhanded compliments, snide remarks, or unflattering sarcasm that can make you feel like you’re back in middle school.
Bully jerks are usually high-performers, which is why they usually feel like they can get away with this kind of behavior. It can also mean leadership is willing to overlook some of this jerk’s attitude.
Just like in middle school, these office bullies tend to target individuals that they perceive as weak or unable to fight back. Let this jerk know that you don’t appreciate their behavior toward you. If you present yourself as capable, confident, and willing to stand up for yourself and others, you may become a less-desirable target.
The think-for-yourself jerk
This jerk is the type who’s always ready to take the credit for other’s hard work. They overhype their level of involvement in projects, and will be the first to throw their own colleagues under the bus when things go wrong.
This behavior can throw teams into turmoil by ruining collaboration, and furthering the sense that the only way to get ahead is to step over each other. That’s a recipe for disaster in any workplace.
When dealing with a think-for-yourself jerk, document everything. Keep copies of emails that can help show how each person is involved in a given project. If this jerk keeps taking undue credit and shirking blame, then you should let a supervisor know.
The petty jerk
This is the type of jerk who can’t let any slight go unpunished. This person holds a grudge, though nobody seems to remember why. Maybe they didn’t get invited for happy-hour drinks, maybe they got passed up for a promotion, maybe everyone was too busy to help them when they needed it.
These are people who usually have some level of pull within the organization. They desperately want respect from others, but feel they don’t have it. They gain a sense of control by taking their frustrations out on others.
One method for dealing with the petty jerk is to give them some of the homage they crave. It may not sound fun, but being extra nice to these jerks can be disarming for them, and may make them more compliant, at least when you’re asking.
The clueless bigot jerk
This is the jerk who could lead to a lawsuit if left unchecked. They make off-color jokes or comments about race, religion, political or gender stereotypes. The bigot jerk may not make themselves known to everyone — they will likely only let their guard down in certain moments or around certain people.
Fortunately, the bigot jerk is one that people will more readily stand up to, especially in today’s diverse workplaces. Tell this jerk that their behavior isn’t funny, it isn’t endearing, and it isn’t respectful. If they still don’t get the point, you shouldn’t hesitate to bring this up to a supervisor. Bigotry and sexism have no place in a healthy organization.
The gossip jerk
Have you ever shared confidential information with a person or group of people, only to hear someone outside of that group talking about it a few days later? Or maybe you’re talking with a coworker who says “Hey don’t tell anyone else, but I heard a rumor about Frank in accounting.”
If this jerk is willing to gossip about others behind their backs, they’ll probably do the same to you, right? Healthy organizations are built on trust. Employees need to know that they can be open with each other, without fear of personal or confidential information becoming a source of amusement for others. Gossiping about fellow employees is a surefire way to destroy trust in an organization.
Stay professional and don’t participate in gossip when it comes up. If you overhear unhealthy gossip, politely remind the jerk that they probably have some dirty laundry of their own that they wouldn’t want shared.