“In less enlightened times, the best way to impress women was to own a hot car. But women wised up and realized it was better to buy their own hot cars so they wouldn’t have to ride around with jerks.”
Scott Adams, cartoonist
To make matters worse, “Not all jerks are created equal.” As Ron Zemke, the senior editor of “Training” magazine put it, “There are jerks, and there are JERKS.”
That’s true enough, but how do you deal with the jerks in your world?. You have at least three choices when it comes to handling jerks. Live, Lobby, or Leave.
You could learn to live with the jerks. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you might take comfort in the knowledge that there could be some value in having a jerk around once in a while.
Michael Lombardo and Morgan McCall, researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina, have found that the most successful executives worked for jerks at some time in their careers. And while a few escaped through the transfer or resignation of the jerk boss, the majority of them toughed it out — and profited from the experience in the long run.
The successful execs who had worked for jerks adopted the attitudes of “This, too, shall pass” or “I work for the company, not for this jerk.” Then they redoubled their efforts. Their perseverance paid off.
(I address this critical topic of attitude in greater detail in my new book coming out in early December, entitled “The Payoff Principle: Discover the 3 Secrets For Getting What You Want Out Of Life And Work.” Click here for a sneak preview and a free download about deflecting negativity.)
Others in the organization came to respect and admire them for answering the question, “How can you stand working for that jerk?” with a shrug and a simple, “Aw, he isn’t anything I can’t handle.”
So your first choice in coping with jerks is simply deciding to live with them. After all, as Mardy Grothe, coauthor of “Problem Bosses: Who They Are and How to Deal with Them,” points out, some jerk bosses don’t know any better. “Most bosses never got any training. Others were promoted to being boss because of their technical talent or expertise.” In either case, those bosses never intended to be jerks; they just didn’t know how NOT to be.
Your second choice is to lobby the jerks. Try to change them in some way.
If the other person is a mild jerk, you could tell him that you’re uncomfortable with the way he is treating you. For example, if the jerk criticizes you and you know that he has a valid point, don’t dispute the criticism. Instead, tell him how you feel when he talks to you in a certain way, in front of others or about specific issues. Let your mildly jerky boss know that he has every right to find fault with your work, but he doesn’t have to yell at you or use sarcastic remarks to make his point.
If the other person is a real JERK and levels unfounded attacks, ask for specific details. If, for example, a coworker insists you don’t work as hard as she does and you know you work as hard if not harder than she does, ask her why she thinks that way. You may learn that she resents your personal phone calls and has no idea that you stay after work to make up for the time you spent on those calls.
You could also ask the jerk to help you improve. If your boss criticizes your performance unnecessarily, you might respond by saying something like this: “I feel I’m working as well as I can, but I value your opinion. Could we go over what I’m doing that’s right and wrong?” By acknowledging that he’s the boss, you boost his self-esteem and may discourage any pointless insults in the future.
Truth be told, there are several more strategies that will help you to deal with jerks more easily and more effectively. You can pick those up at my webinar on November 13th at 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. To register, go to https://www.drzimmerman.com/estore/dealing-with-difficult-people.php
Of course, you may feel like you couldn’t possibly learn to LIVE with the jerk, and you may feel your efforts to LOBBY the jerk to change would be useless. Then you’ve got one more choice. You could…
You could “leave” some distance between the two of you. Let other people know that you don’t necessarily agree with all your jerky boss’s or coworker’s ideas and behaviors. Leave some space so other people in your organization don’t mistakenly think the two of you are alike.
That doesn’t mean you should run off to lunch with an acquaintance from another department and start spilling your guts about “what that jerk did this time.” As Zemke notes, “Your boss may be pond scum, but it’s still stupid to run around speaking ill of him/her.”
You could also “leave” by banding together with your fellow sufferers and go over your jerky boss’s head to his boss. I do not recommend this approach, but a calm, rational, and well-documented presentation to the big boss might have the desired effect — if the desired effect is to get the jerk boss transferred or fired.
However, this is a dangerous move. If it backfires, you can say goodbye to your job. And if it works, breaking the chain of command could make you an “undesirable” in the organization. Only a very secure manager will take you on as a subordinate after you’ve led a revolt.
Your other choice is to leave “leave.” Jump ship. Get out. Quit your job. Find another job. As one employee-assistance director says, “If it appears that getting away from a raging maniac of a boss is the only way to keep your own sanity, by all means do it. And do it sooner than later. Putting up with behavior you know to be irrational over a long period of time will utterly destroy your self-respect and confidence.”
If you’re working or living with jerks, don’t ever tell yourself “there’s nothing I can do about it.” Yes there is. You can live, lobby, or leave. And the right choice will make a huge difference in your overall happiness and success.