Dealing With the Jerk at Work (cont.)

"Managing performance isn't going to be as effective if systems that consist of concrete, behaviorally specific values aren't in place," Kusy tells WebMD. Take integrity, for instance. If a company's leadership doesn't openly communicate the requirement that all employees maintain integrity, they can't in earnest admonish the employee who talks trash about co-workers behind their backs. But if upper management has made clear that integrity is a company value to be upheld, co-workers who breach this value should be held accountable.

To ensure all employees are invested in upholding company values, get everyone—office jerks included—involved in the process of developing behavior-oriented workplace standards, suggests Kusy. "It's that much more valuable to individual employees if you involve them in creating these values," he tells WebMD.

Establishing workplace values simplifies the sometimes sticky business of confronting an office jerk. "There's no easy way to have the discussion. But it's easier to have the talk once those values are designed and communicated throughout the organization," Kusy says. That way, whoever initiates the confrontation with the jerk—whether it's the boss or a co-worker—can point to a breach in specific company values. Subsequently, the target of the confrontation can't reasonably construe the conversation as a personal attack.

Avoid personal attacks. When the target of a confrontation feels personally attacked—as if other employees simply don't like that person because of his or her personality, for instance—it's likely that communication will either deteriorate or shut down completely. But there are ways to avoid these pitfalls.

"Hide behind the work. Remember, it's not about the person," Jansen says.

Others agree. "Keep it about the job," says Nancy D. O'Reilly, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and founder of the web site Don't just say you don't like the offender's behavior; tell him or her that the behavior is interfering with your ability to complete your job, O'Reilly advises. Then, be prepared to note which behaviors you find offensive, and offer specific examples of when they have been used in the office.

Experts also recommend that employees confront troublesome co-workers themselves, first. Then, if that is ineffective, they should go up the chain of command.

When the Boss Is the Jerk

It's one thing to tell your co-worker that his or her behavior stands in stark contrast to everything the company values; it's quite another to tell your boss that. But a bad boss can be just as detrimental, if not more so, to the health of a company—and its employees.

Just as there are countless types of office jerks, several types of bad bosses exist, says Laura Crawshaw, PhD, an executive coach and author of How to End Unnecessary Roughness in the Workplace. She lumps them into five subcategories that fit under the umbrella of the abrasive boss: overreacting, controlling, condescending, publicly humiliating, and those with a threatening attitude. "All these behaviors serve to intimidate," Crawshaw tells WebMD.

Another characteristic that bad bosses share? "These abrasive bosses are generally blind to the impact they have on other people," Crawshaw says.

But Crawshaw believes they can change their behavior. "If you bring back very specific feedback regarding the stress they've created, they're often shocked and remorseful," she says.

Even though it can be intimidating, Crawshaw recommends that employees initiate a confrontation directly with their troublesome boss. Only if that proves unsuccessful should employees get human resources involved, she advises.

"These may be risky strategies. But, too often, employees leave the company without even trying them," Crawshaw says.

SOURCES: Mitchell Kusy, PhD, Fulbright scholar; professor, Antioch University, Santa Barbara, Calif. Julie Jansen, workplace consultant, Stamford, Conn. Nancy D. O'Reilly, PsyD, clinical psychologist, Ozarks, Mo.; founder of the web site Laura Crawshaw, PhD, executive coach, Portland, Ore.

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Last Editorial Review: 3/5/2008