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When a Jerk Affects Your Work

When a Jerk Affects Your Work

There will almost always come a time you’ll have to work alongside someone you don’t like. Here are seven tips for working with people who drive you nuts.
When you work with someone who rubs you the wrong way, your job can suffer. Even in this age of online meetings, you can’t hide from a workplace bully, boor, bore, or just plain jerk.
There will almost always come a time you’ll have to work alongside someone you don’t like, said Christal Fuentes, founder of The Ladies Coach, which offers relationship coaching and advice. Your relationship with your colleagues is important to your mental health because, like it or not, work is often the focus of your day, Fuentes said.
“Sure we can always quit our jobs if we don’t want to deal with difficult people,” Fuentes said. “But true success and fulfillment in life comes with the ability to master the relationships around you. Even the most difficult ones.”

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Rather than quitting, you can learn to effectively interact with difficult coworkers. When you diffuse a difficult work relationship, you’ll find it easier to focus on your job, be heard at work, and think clearly, Fuentes said.
Not sure if someone is merely a bit annoying or actually difficult?
The man who literally wrote the book on workplace jerks offers an easy definition. A jerk is someone who leaves you feeling demeaned, de-energized or disrespected, said Robert Sutton, professor of management science at Stanford University. He’s author of “The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People who Treat You Like Dirt” and other books on business management.
In the book, Sutton offers “field-tested, evidence-based, and often surprising strategies for dealing with difficult colleagues—avoiding them, outwitting them, disarming them, sending them packing, and developing protective psychological armor.” There are no instant or foolproof strategies for surviving jerks, Sutton said.

Still, there are some tactics you can use when working alongside someone who drives you nuts, Sutton said. Below, we offer seven tips for working with people you just don’t like.

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1. Resistance is futile

Don’t bother telling yourself the buffoon can’t affect you, Fuentes said. You’re not made of stone. One way or another, they’ll get under your skin. Accept it. But remember that “The only person you can control is yourself,” she said.
“Learn to set new boundaries and don’t take others’ behaviors too seriously,” she said. “The best way to do this is to manage your own behaviors and emotions first.”

2. Get away

“If you can get even 15 to 20 feet away from that person, it’s as good as moving to another country,” Sutton said. “That’s the thing I’d focus on. Get out and get away from them to avoid the damage.”

3. Be Switzerland

Act as a neutral party, Fuentes said. “Don’t say anything to compromise your job. Don’t let them dim your light and don’t try to compete with them,” she said. “You don’t have to be party to anyone’s group or gossip.”
Be friendly. But if someone tries to pull you into a clique or wants to gossip about others, change the topic to something about the team in general, Fuentes added.

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4. Take it slow

This is a good strategy when dealing with someone who is aggressive or pushy, Sutton said. When they make you angry, slow down the interaction, he said.
“Instead of responding with anger or urgency, you can respond with the exact opposite,” Sutton said. “If you receive a nasty email, wait a day or two to respond. When someone yells at you, talk back slowly. This slows the rhythm of the interaction, exposes you to less nastiness, and reduces how much they can throw at you.”

5. Take a tip from Ben Franklin

No less a person than Ben Franklin offered a way to take the bite out of an ill-behaved colleague: Be nice to them, Sutton said.
“Being nice is the last thing that might occur to you, but by doing so you create cognitive dissonance that might actually flip a nasty person to nice,” he said.
Another way to create cognitive dissonance is to ask your difficult colleague for advice, Sutton said. “You’re sort of honoring them and at the same time, they feel like they’re helping you.”
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6. Put it in perspective

One of the best coping mechanisms is what Sutton called “cognitive time shifting.”
Say to yourself, ‘When I look back on this, it’s not going to bother me that much,’ he recommended. Experimental evidence finds that imaging how an unpleasant experience will feel when you look back on it is one of the most effective strategies for getting through the encounter without “leaving a bruise on your soul,” Sutton said.

7. Document it

If you decide to take recourse against your colleague be sure to document your interactions for future use. Keep emails, take notes and develop allies, Sutton advised. They will help you form an objective case against the person, he said.
Working with difficult people is a vital life skill, Fuentes said. After all, most people spend the majority of their day at work.
“Why should we spend those working hours of our life feeling frustrated, discouraged or angry? The answer is, we shouldn’t,” she said.
You have the power to disarm workplace jerks, Sutton said. By wielding the power, you can continue to give your job its best.

Jean Thilmany is a science and technology writer in Saint Paul, Minn.

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