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Dealing With The Jerk At Work

We’ve all worked with a jerk (aka difficult colleague). Maybe it’s a toxic, coercive boss whose sole job, it seems, is to hone in on your weaknesses and exploit them to make you feel less than. Or is it your counterpart across the aisle who is positioning for a turf war after one of your partners retired? We’ve all come across these folks and need to navigate the best we can.

You’ve got 3 options when it comes to dealing with a difficult colleague:

  1. Quit and go find another job

  2. Do nothing, suck it up and hope it gets better

  3. Change your perspective

What do I mean by changing one’s perspective? I’m talking about shifting the relationship you have with the relationship of the person that’s triggering you. Aka the jerk.

I spend a lot of time working with my executive coaching clients on perspective. We all view the world through a set of lenses based on our past experiences and the influence of people around us. Whether it's a previous job, family dynamics or the media we consume, these inherited beliefs dictate how we show up.

Your point of view depends on where you sit (your perspective), so if you want to change it get off your butt and move.

Here are a few questions to ask when dealing with a difficult colleague that just might help to shift your perspective:

How is my reaction to him/her helping me?

Most things have a cost and a benefit. When you buy a car it has a cost, but the benefits must outweigh the costs or you wouldn't buy it. So ask yourself; How is my reaction to this person benefiting me? Do you put in the extra time ahead of that meeting to get the numbers right or pull together the perfect presentation? Do you make sure to go to bed the night before early to get some extra sleep so that you can deal with the interaction? Focusing on the benefits can help to relieve some of the emotion around these interactions.

What would it take for me to let this go?

Clearly there has been an amygdala hijacking because as soon as you see the guy you are ready for a fight, or you shrink, becoming an over-anxious version of yourself.

You need to interrupt that pattern so that you can begin to set a new action/reaction cycle. What is one way for you to let it go? It can be as simple as setting an intention, “next time I see him, I’ll take a breath and pause before I respond.” If you can’t begin to let it go it will eat you alive so think about ways in which you can interrupt this pattern.

Why might they be acting this way?

Anger is when pain makes a public appearance. We often judge a person by their behavior. There are many reasons why someone might act the way they do - unresolved pain, insecurities etc. - and when they act the way they do, it can be their pain speaking out not them. By this simple observation you can sometimes allow yourself to not get as charged by that person.

My boss makes me mad
working with a difficult colleague

What Your Reflections Say About Your Situation

After sitting with these questions, and being honest with your answers, is there some way that you are playing a part in this dynamic? Can you be the bigger person, suck it up and keep your own side of the street clean? Or is there something bigger happening? Is this a signal that the culture where you are may not line up with who you are anymore? Or if you want to dig a little bit deeper is it possible your subconscious is seeing something you don’t like about yourself in this person, and it doesn’t feel good? And sometimes it’s that you’ve found yourself dealing with a total narcissist and so maybe the right path is to save yourself years of therapy at $500 bucks a session and begin to plan your exit, with purpose rather than on a whim after you blow the whole thing up.

But maybe, if you were to roll up your sleeves, do some deep self reflection, practice the sets and reps you need to shift your perspective, you can begin to release the emotion around the relationship and show up without the trigger.

I challenge you to give it a try and reach out if you want to unpack your reflections further.


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