Have you ever worked with a person so nasty that you hated going to work? It’s sad, but some people can spoil everything.
In an ideal world, people would treat others with respect, patience, and kindness. I think that’s what we’re meant to do as humans beings.
Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 til 180, and once the most powerful man on earth, said it best:
“In a sense, people are our proper occupation. Our job is to do them good and put up with them.”
But in real life, things are a bit different. Most of us face bullies, backstabbers, and arses who don’t respect others on a daily basis.
Workplace jerks are a serious problem. They trigger anxiety, depression, sleep problems, high blood pressure, and poor relationships with their families and partners.
I’ve dealt with assholes at work in the past too. And I must be honest. There were days I hated going into the office.
After successfully dealing with assholes, and interviewing Robert Sutton, I want to share three practical strategies with you that can prevent a lot of stress.
1. Do Nothing. Have Sympathy.
If I face a jerk, I always thing about these things:
- Are they having a bad day?
- Do they have relationship issues?
- Maybe they didn’t eat?
All those things play a role in our mood.
Look, I’m no Buddhist monk, but I do believe in kindness. So if someone is not a jerk, don’t be too quick to judge. Instead, we should practice sympathy. And I must say, it took me a long time to realize that. And still, I need to practice more sympathy.
It’s nothing more than understanding other people’s behavior. Just by understanding basic human psychology will make you a relaxed human being. Not everyone out there is evil.
For example, it’s okay to let a bad episode slide. That doesn’t make you weak or a pushover. In fact, I think people who have a lot of sympathy for others are the truly strong ones.
However, if someone’s always harassing you or others, it’s a different story. When we put up with continuous abuse, that’s not okay. That brings me to the second strategy.
2. Get The Hell Out
I believe in quitting. There’s nothing wrong with throwing in the towel.
But make sure you can’t (or don’t want) to change the situation first. If you have a conflict at work with a coworker, you could try to resolve that situation.
Remember, we can only change so much. If you work in an environment where office politics and backstabbing is the norm, it is unlikely you can change the culture unless you are a senior manager or the CEO.
In those cases, there’s nothing wrong with quitting. In fact, it’s what you should do.
If you’re working for an organization that has different values than you: Leave.
But stay practical, believe in yourself, and create a plan. Storming into your manager’s office and saying “I quit, you bastard” only happens in movies.
Knowing when to quit is not that complicated. Assess your situation and make a decision. That’s what I did when I found out that I had different personal values than the company I worked for in the past. So I got out.
3. Fight Back
Assholes at work are often very good at office politics. So no matter what you do, never try to beat an asshole at their own game. They will always win. And even if you do win, you don’t want to become an asshole yourself.
Robert Sutton, author of The No Asshole Survival Guide, has great advice on this:
“Make no mistake. Doing battle with assholes is risky business. Once they notice your efforts to stifle their rudeness or contempt, they can get mighty riled up and vindictive — and take it out on you.”
If you decide to fight back, think about your strategy. When it comes to conflicts, I prefer to let the other person know how you feel about a situation.
No matter how big of an idiot someone is, it’s impossible to disagree with feelings. Also, make sure there’s always someone else in the same room when you confront a jerk. As Sutton told me in our interview, having a good support system at work makes all the difference.
No matter how perfect you are, fighting back remains a difficult thing. And I don’t have a clear-cut strategy for winning.
However, I can share a few things you should never do:
- Act on your impulses — Yes, I understand that some people piss you off. But never act the first thing that comes to mind. When you encounter a jerk, take a step back. And then think about what to do next.
- Use aggressive confrontation — That’s simply unprofessional.
- Call an asshole an asshole — They’ll turn you into the asshole.
- Get revenge — That’s what bullies do. Be bigger than that.
- Ask the system for help — Often people think that HR is your friend. But they are there to protect the company’s interest, not your personal interests. And I’m sure HR people tell me I’m wrong. But that’s their job. It’s not personal. Just don’t expect them to have your back.
Fighting back remains a tough thing, but the rewards are positive, no matter what the outcome is. When you fight back, you say no to assholes, and that makes you feel in control of life.
I believe that, under no circumstance, one should feel like a powerless victim in life. Stand up for yourself with dignity and pride.
So, regardless of the results of our encounters with bullies, if we decide to say no to them, we will remain in control of our career. This is your life. Own it.