Handling Jerks in the Workplace

I don’t like to talk about the dark side of life in the workplace because, quite frankly, such topics bore me. There’s plenty of unpleasantness to be found on the news, as I’m certain you know. That said, if I am going to discuss the down sides of obnoxious behavior, I will at least suggest methods of taking action on your own behalf; heroic technical writers don’t just let evil stand.

Mind you, I haven’t faced a whole lot of these situations in a while, but I know they exist, if only because I keep hearing about them: bullying, discrimination, racism, sexual harassment. Here’s the short Bartish tutorial on dealing with jerks in the workplace, regardless of their individual flavor of jerkism:

  • Ignore them/tune them out/don’t react. Sometimes, lacking a reaction, the practicing jerk will move on to a new target. However, that has not been my experience. Usually you end up having to move on to the next step…
  • Confront the individual directly. I’ve had people (guys, of course) who just wouldn’t stop harassing ming until I yelled, growled, or insulted them back. (Personal favorite response: “Look, if you dislike my work, fire me. But if I’m doing a good job, stop insulting me and let me do my job.”) Yes, indeed: there are people who won’t respect you unless you’re willing to fight back. It’s immature, but so it goes.
  • There is also the model I picked up at Disney, where you identify specifically what the person is doing, ask them to stop, explain its impact on you, and ask them how you would prefer to behave. The ball is in then in their court.
  • If the individual in question is larger than you and not interested in resolving things in an adult manner (long-time bullies don’t change, so this is possible), you might have to have the aforementioned behavior discussion with a supervisor or human resources person present. Sometimes employment consequences get the jerk’s attention. Sometimes not.
  • Eventually, if you feel your personal safety threatened, you’ll have to get law enforcement involved. Restraining orders are about as effective as wadding up the paper and throwing at the person in question, so it’s likely–because the police can’t be there all the time–that you might have to look to your own defense until the jerk is no longer in a position to bother you: martial arts training, mace, knife, firearms (for my American readers), or guard dog(s)–or a friend with same. Whatever it takes. (Caveat on this one–you usually can’t bring weapons into the workplace.)

I know, someone will probably read this and think, “Easy for you to say!” It’s not required that you take my advice. This is merely my attempt to face unpleasantness head on.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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