The character of business and technology has changed over the past few decades, but there's one thing that will remain constant as long as people congregate in one space to make money: workplace jerks. There will always be arrogant know-it-alls, bullies, rude people, bad listeners, loudmouths, and every other type of annoying, disruptive, difficult person.
If you work with one of these workplace jerks, here are four quick and easy ways to neutralize their effect on you so you can move on with your day and retain a positive frame of mind.
1. Matador their comments.
Don't get into it with a difficult person. You'll rarely win. Just let the bull go flying by and stay focused on doing your best job. One way to do this is to resort to silence rather than confront the person. For example, if a coworker is a vicious gossiper who spews toxic vitriol all day long and makes you feel slimed after she's leaned in to share the latest poisonous news, simply ignore her, excuse yourself, or stay silent. She'll get the message quickly once you've done this a couple of times, and will seek out a different set of ears.
2. Disarm them with kindness.
Perpetually unpleasant people or chronic complainers are typically unhappy. They may even be insecure. Knowing that, you may be able to change the dynamic between the two of you by finding things to appreciate about them. Keep your eye open for good work, smart ideas, or even the occasional good attitude, and be sure to praise them when they do something well. These folks are running on a deficit of strokes, and saying genuinely nice things goes a long way toward helping them feel better about themselves — and about you.
3. Practice acceptance.
Accept that people and things are the way they are. You can't change others, but you can change your own perceptions and expectations. If you're coming in to work every day and feeling your stomach clench up as soon as you hear the annoying person's voice across the room, you need to learn how to repeat this phrase over and over until it sinks in: "People and things are the way they are. I can't control them, but I can control my own attitude." This phrase, which you can customize by putting in the name of the jerky person, works like magic to immediately dispel frustration and remove your emotional involvement with him or her. You'll quickly feel more accepting, calm, and less irritated.
4. Keep it simple and clear.
When you know it's necessary to speak up, be sure you just address only one specific topic at a time and say what's true for you about the topic. In other words, you don't want to water down your message with a laundry list of complaints. Take one issue, and make it specific to you, using an "I" statement. Avoid those finger-pointing "yous," making threats, or reading them the riot act. It only makes things worse and does nothing to improve the work environment.
So, you might say: "I got really hurt when you called me a slacker in the meeting, and I would appreciate it if, when you have something to say to me, you do so in private so we can talk about it." Then listen for a minute to see if they received your message. If they deny it, get defensive, or continue to blame you, calmly repeat your message: "Well, I just wanted you to know what happened to me when you said XYZ." Then smile and move on.
These four simple strategies will help you with most of the difficult workplace jerks you're likely to encounter. Want to find out more about attitudes and reactions to people that may be derailing your business success? Take a quick self-quiz here, and then try the coping strategies designed to address them.