We probably don’t have to tell you this, but we’ll at least validate it: You work with some jerks!
And you aren’t alone. Because there are a variety of jerks, nearly every company and team has one (or some).
“No matter how educated you are or what your job title is, you can fall victim to a jerk at work,” says Tessa West, author of Jerks at Work: Toxic Coworkers and What to Do About Them. “Spending time in the workplace does not necessarily translate to having better conflict management skills.”
West, a social psychologist, is as much a victim to jerks as the rest of us. She once changed her work hours to avoid sharing a bathroom with one!
So, with professional and practical authority, West defines the six jerks and gives tips on how to handle them.
They’re well-connected and aren’t afraid to flex muscles. They use those muscles to take over how things are done and decided within their groups. They also use fear and intimidation to get what they want from colleagues, bosses and direct reports.
Handle them: Practice “holding the floor” when dealing with Bulldozers. Get input and opinions from everyone involved in the project on the team to signal that you work with a variety of views. Encourage everyone to voice their thoughts throughout a project or process.
The Kiss Up/Kick Downer wants to climb to the top, treating colleagues as the competition. They aim to gain the approval from higher-ups at any cost. That includes tossing co-workers and allies to the side as they climb.
Handle them: Find other victims to confirm the problem is widespread, especially if this kind of behavior is reported to management. Then either use the evidence – incidents, dates, places and how the behavior affects others – to address the situation with the employee.
These jerks act like a friend, but betray and steal credit for everything good – such as ideas, work and contributions – to better themselves. Even worse, they cover their tracks well. So they’ll hide their bad behaviors and the actual good work colleagues do.
Handle them: When it’s a colleague, use your voice and track record to highlight your individual contributions. You don’t have to brag. Say what you’ve done or will do before your thunder is stolen.
They’re experts at doing the minimum – or nothing – and getting rewarded for it. They step up for important work that requires more oversight and less effort. Their secret to the ruse: They’re well-liked and friendly, making it difficult for others to call them out.
Handle them: Do a regular fairness check for workflows – for your teams and yourself. Encourage managers to do this, too. When you make workflows public, Free Riders will be outed.
This could be your boss or a manipulative colleague or employee. They’re impatient and disrespect your time and space. They monitor time and behavior that’s none of their business.
Handle them: If it’s your boss, you’ll need to confront it. Talk about aligning big picture goals with your duties. For colleagues or employees, put up physical barriers – such as Do Not Disturb signs – and electronic barriers – do not disturb on communication apps. Offer limited – or no – status updates.
They’re grand scale liars. They might isolate their victims and slowly build the altered reality they want believed. They might use the victim’s vulnerabilities to help them steal or cheat. In HR, you want to keep an eye out for these jerks who do this to vulnerable employees because those are the people who would not likely bring it to anyone’s attention.
Handle them: Find and rely on new allies. Help employees who are victims to align with better co-workers, too. The Gaslighter tries to socially isolate victims so they believe the altered reality. Check in with others you trust to decide what’s good and true. And check in on apparent victims to be sure they stay away from Gaslighters.