Having a bully in your office is like being followed around by a black cloud you can’t shake. Every day is filled with the same looming dread that this menace is plotting your professional downfall or out to ruin your day. It’s enough to make you want to stay in bed. So what can you do to make your work life more bearable?
According to Bob Sutton, a professor at Stanford University and author of the new book The Asshole Survival Guide, the first step to defending yourself against these jerks is to properly diagnose the threat before picking your battles. We spoke with Sutton to see if he could explain the different types of difficult people you will encounter at work and the best ways to deal with them.
Temporary or Certified
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First off, making the distinction between a “temporary” and “certified” assholes is incredibly important before planning your next step. We’ve all had low moments where we’ve taken our frustrations out on an innocent bystander. So before taking action, you should ask yourself is this person having a bad day, or are they really this mean? Sutton believes that “under the wrong situation any of us can turn nasty and disrespectful”, so make sure you don’t write someone off completely after a tiny transgression.
Strategic or Clueless
Identifying a “strategic” and “clueless” office evildoer is also crucial as one can be much easier to handle than the other. While those conniving office jerks are never great to deal with, the ones who are “so inwardly focussed and so narcissistic that they’re not even aware of it” are the ones you really have to beware of. Because they act this way without thinking first, there is little chance they will change once you confront them.
The sneaky co-workers who will stab you in the back or, as Sutton calls them, “Grin-f*ckers” are some of the most common workplace offenders you will have to deal with in your lifetime. These are the co-workers who will paint on a large smile while gaining intel from you in order to muddy your name and reputation as soon as you leave the room.
The Petty Tyrant
The last kind of office jerk that Sutton identifies is the “Petty Tyrant”. This could be someone in your finance department or human resources who are in total control of something that you need to be taken care of and they go out of their way to make the process as painful as possible for no reason. As Sutton puts it “there is all sorts of evidence that If you give someone low prestige and some power over you that they will treat you like dirt”.
So how can you combat these office bullies as they try to cut you down day in and day out? Well first and foremost, you should find a different job ASAP. But if you like your job too much to leave, you can always try to distance yourself. Making sure you are sitting within a positive group of co-workers is extremely important because if you are “within 25 feet of a toxic person in the workplace, the chances that you’ll become a toxic person will go up substantially and so will the chances of you getting fired for being a toxic person.” So be sure to handle these office jerks the right way before you turn into one yourself.