If you’re like most people, you like most of your colleagues most of the time. Generally speaking, the workplace is a community. People are friendly, and there is a shared goal. And that makes work a fulfilling place to be, and hopefully you feel as though you are part of something bigger.
Unfortunately, all that goodwill generated by your wonderful coworkers can evaporate completely when a few jerks appear. Just a couple of negative interactions with a colleague can be enough to overcome a host of other positive conversations. And those negative interactions may stay with you even after you leave work.
Here’s a field guide to some of the biggest jerks at work and a few things you can do to keep up your positive mood.
This species is constantly invading your mental space in order to tell you that you are doing something the wrong way or that there is more information that they have that you need. The problem with the know-it-all isn’t knowledge, it is the assumption underlying each conversation that you are an idiot.
There are two things you need to think about when it comes to the know-it-all. First, as painful as it may be to admit, the know-it-all may actually have some valuable information for you. If so, you need to overcome this person’s style to learn what you can. It may pain you to give them the satisfaction of teaching you, but that is ultimately a small price to pay.
Second, some of the know-it-all’s are actually pretty insecure. They wear their qualifications on their sleeves, because that helps to protect them from their own nagging doubts about their capabilities. For those people, it can really help to compliment them when you see them doing a great job. The more secure they feel, the less they will need to prove their worth in more annoying ways.
Many workplaces have someone who is a stickler for the rules. There is a core personality dimension called conscientiousness, and people who are very conscientious tend to believe in rule-following. The rules themselves are less important than that the rule is being obeyed. When they (or the people around them) are not following procedures to the letter, it can provoke a lot of anxiety for them.
I am a big believer in an ethical workplace. But, not all rules and procedures are aimed at making the office a more ethical place to be. It’s frustrating when you feel like you are doing good work and someone is still calling you out over details that don’t seem to matter.
The trick is to turn this person into an ally. The really conscientious people in any workplace are wonderful, because they make sure that things get done. Try to enlist their help and support in the productive things you are doing at work. Engaging them to help work through the details of a project lets them use their orientation to detail as a force for good and at the same time keeps them too busy to be focused on nitpicking.
The narcissists at work are some of the hardest people to deal with. Narcissists build up their own self-confidence and self-image with the energy from other people. They are often showing off their accomplishments and taking more credit than they deserve for group efforts. Narcissists are also competitive. Unfortunately, they feel that their success is enhanced if you also fail.
Engaging with narcissists at work can be frustrating. In order to feel better about your interactions with them, try to engage on your terms not theirs. Think of topics of conversation that you can have with them before you bump into them in the hall, and then start the discussion before they can launch into the latest recitation of their accomplishments. Use humor to deflect any nasty comments they throw in your direction. And when you’re in their presence, make sure you talk about the great things that your colleagues have done to reinforce the value of the team.
One of the biggest jerks at work is the person who is looking to do as little as possible. They find clever ways to avoid big tasks and they lurk in the background hoping that they are not given important assignments. They wait until the last minute to get things done, and so other people end up really picking up the slack.
These people are difficult, because they erode the community. They are not sharing the vision of the group, and that undermines group cohesiveness. Your blood may boil when you see them, because you know they are not pulling their weight.
Unfortunately, the shirk is someone you need to confront firmly and directly. A well-functioning workplace has no room for someone who is not contributing. Take this person to lunch. Talk with them. Ask them questions to find out what they think they are accomplishing at work. Give them constructive feedback. And if they are still slacking off, sit down with a supervisor and ask what you can do to help the situation.
It can be hard to get your work done at work. Many people are now working in open office environments. Noise travels. You have to hear people’s phone conversations. You see everyone who is wandering around the workplace. There are lots of space invaders–people who pop by unannounced to tell you something or to ask a question.
It is useful to try to establish a system that gives you the flexibility to concentrate on your work when you need to while still being a good colleague. Try to find a quiet place to work when you really need to focus so you are protected from interruptions. If there are no safe havens in the office, then try to set up a system with the people who pester your most. Put up a stop sign when you are really busy and get them to come back later. Ask them to send an email.
Most space invaders are looking for the path of least resistance. If you put up obstacles, then they are likely to move on to the next person.
Finally, remember that your reactions to the jerks at work are largely under your control. You can’t control their actions, but you can control your reaction. If you treat the jerks in your life with a smile and some humor, you will find that the things they do bother you a lot less.