May 27, 2007

Working With Jerks...

All celebration aside, this season was a pretty good one for MU (Manchester United). I have been waiting for the day to come when the team would rise like a phoenix from its ashes. (^^)

Anyway, I digress... (as usual).

I'd guess my post for today is something which we all encounter at work at one point or another. If you have had the luxury of not coming across some jerks in your workplace, be very grateful. Anyway, I just finished a book some time back called "The No @sshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't" by Robert Sutton.

At some point in time, I am very sure we have encountered some unpleasant people at the workplace - the sadistic boss, or the braggart/gloater colleague. Surely, you must have felt "I want to kick this guy in the face" or if you were intimidated very badly, you felt like you were totally incompetent and wanted to leave the workplace.

Anyway, this book proved to be a bit of an eye-opener as these jerks, although may be quite capable at work can make the workplace so toxic that it may be detrimental to the organization in the long term. Companies may praise these jerks for their efforts but these jerks tend to leave a trail of destruction behind them which costs companies more $$$ to clean up.

So, first and foremost, how do you identify the @sshole in the workplace?

There are a couple of tests, according to the book and I've witnessed this myself too...
  • Test 1: After talking to the alleged @sshole(s) (everyone is not an @sshole until proven otherwise..), does the person feel upset, humiliated, de-energized or belittled? Do you feel worse about yourself?
  • Test 2: Does the alleged @sshole(s) often target people who are less powerful than at those people who are more powerful?
Besides that, you may also observe some of the interaction these @ssholes display at work...
  • Personal insults
  • Invading one's "personal space" - if played wrongly, could lead to Sexual Harassment
  • Uninvited physical contact - Sexual Harassment??
  • Threats and intimidations, both verbal and non-verbal
  • "Sarcastic jokes" and "teasing" used as an alternative insult delivery mechanism
  • Withering e-mail flames
  • Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
  • Public shaming or "status degradation" rituals
  • Rude interruptions
  • Two-faced attacks
  • Dirty looks
  • Treating people as if they're invisible
I have a colleague which displayed about 99% of all those actions towards me. One day, he suddenly touched my hand with his finger and said, "eeee.. So many spots. So ugly!! You should take care-la!!!"

I was shocked. I did not invite his "touch", neither did I welcome his comment. I can't help it if I have freckles as I had been exposed to the Aussie sun for 2.5years. Anyway, I brushed his comment aside and ignored him.

At times, this guy who will come back to visit the company, will talk to everyone except me. So, I'm treated as invisible, even from the day I joined, he did not want to interact with me at all. So, I just ignore him, since it is his loss that he made one friend less.

Anyway, this guy is a classic jerk as he brags about things such as having a lot of enemies and even laughing about it!! Oh well... Darwin's theory of natural selection is interesting enough to produce humans of varied characteristics and personalities in this world - he is certainly one of them. Just have to celebrate variety for variety's sake. ;)

So, the question arise is that now, that you have identified a jerk at the workplace, what can you do?

Well, since we're equipped with a fight or flight response, depending on how strong-willed your personality is, or if you're a bigger jerk than the @sshole is, you can face off but do it with dignity. If you're not as strong willed, it is probably better to avoid this @sshole as a form of self-protection.

Remember the notion of mindsets? Re-framing the situation from a negative to a positive one would make your life a bit easier. I have had the "joy" of being yelled at by my ex-boss for a job he asked me to do but ended up being his mistake. He wasn't a man big enough to admit it at the time and so, decided to be a "temporary @sshole". I just took the situation as a means to be more pro-active in the future. Dealing with the situation calmly did calm my ex-boss down and in the end, he did admit that it was his mistake.

Also, remember the saying "Lose the Battle, Win the War"? Look for small wins. No one is perfect, even @ssholes slip up. If you are fast enough to catch this, you can possibly turn it around to hit him where it hurts and he may never want to confront you again. An example in the book mentioned about one employee whose boss often violated her space and often ate her food as he passed by. One day, she placed a bit of chocolate-flavoured laxative on her desk and he took it! When she told her boss what it was, he wasn't happy but he never took her food again. ;)

Another tip to use is to detach emotionally from the workplace. Work is work and you just have to leave it as that. Besides, we should never use work as a form of crutch to form our personality or life. It is just simply not worth it to get worked up over such people. This of course, leads me to another point - support systems.

Get support from other victims but don't turn it into a @sshole-bashing session as it rarely solves any problems. Support system would mean it is a safe place where you can "chill" after a bad session to get back to "normal". It is good to surround yourself with positive thoughts and people in order to survive the ordeal.

I've already mentioned that we should minimize contact with such @ssholes, but sometimes, we should also hope for the best. Maybe this person has some issues which cause him to act this way. Perhaps using a psychological approach, we could "re-program" him but that rarely brings any success. That @sshole should realize his actions first in order to initiate change. If he is in a state of denial, there is no point in trying to persuade him to change.

The last option in dealing with such @ssholes in the workplace, is to leave. Find another more positive environment to work in. However, ensure that you leave with your self-esteem intact. However, there is no guarantee that you'll find an @sshole free environment but at least you know how to deal with them.

Anyway, the book also talks about implementing the No @sshole rule but this can be hard to implement. At the end of the day, we should all strive to make the workplace a more pleasant one since we spend nearly more than 1/2 the day there.


  1. Kath Meow2:53 pm

    sigh* we as the Female , seems to have a bigger heart, so easily will forget and forgive these jerks! bytheway the word "jerk" meaning sound like for those cacat akal "Jerk: To make a sudden uncontrolled movement. "! ehehhe.. 性情古怪的人,肌肉抽搐

  2. Well... Best to ignore such people. At the end of the day, they'll find themselves to be lonely.

    We just hope for the best and hope that they'll come to their senses or just go away. ;)


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