I Work With a Jerk—How Do I Deal?: Ask Harry and Louise

Our husband-and-wife team advises a man stuck partnering with an insufferable coworker.

By: Harry Jaffe, Louise Jaffe

Dear Harry and Louise:

I work with a jerk. Every day at the office, he makes snide remarks and undermines me and my colleagues. He works on projects with someone and then publicly complains to others about his partner. He is quick to criticize anyone else’s ideas. He considers himself the expert on everything. He praises himself and even sends e-mails about his latest accomplishments to all of us. I’ve just been assigned to work on a project with him. There is no point in trying to go over his head, because the boss will do nothing. To the outside, he is viewed as a success and an important part of the office.

How do I face him each day without decking him?

 Almost Out of Patience

• • •

HARRY SAYS:

Decking him? Not a good idea. Unless, of course, he hits you first. Getting physical with a crummy coworker rarely works out for anyone, at any level.

Surviving the day with this person, not to mention a potential long night or two, will require a combination of self-control and camaraderie. For your part, you have to smile at this guy, regardless of how he congratulates himself. Be sweet and even-tempered. To react in any way to his unpleasant traits will play into his hands. I think of it as “feeding the weed.” He seems to thrive on attention, even a negative response. So don’t give him any attention at all. Don’t feed the weed. Congratulate yourself for keeping a calm demeanor. Withdraw all “nutrition.”

Outside the office, blow off steam with your coworkers. Use this fellow’s unsavory acts to create stronger bonds with your buddies. Make light of him. Don’t take him seriously.

But make sure he’s not in the position to run down you or anyone else to the boss. That still does not mean you have to deck him, but it might require you to join with your friends and approach your boss as a collective. That could deck him in an operational sense.

• • •

LOUISE SAYS:

Wow. This makes my heart sink, because it sounds as if you are facing weeks of pulling yourself to work and then dreading every minute while you’re there. This insecure bonehead will not change, and it sounds as if you have accepted that. If there is absolutely no way you can partner with someone else or be released from this particular project, then you need to find yourself an ally. This ally should be someone you trust. They can work with you or be a buddy outside the office. You won’t talk to them during the workday, but you can ask them to be there for you after hours. You will call them on your commute home, or you will meet them at the bar around the corner, or they will walk across the street and listen to you while you prepare dinner.

You are going to be “faking” during the day. (I’m hoping you are professional enough that you will put your best effort into the project even though you’ll be standing beside a putz who may be undermining your every effort.) It will take much energy to keep your cool and not snap or even yell at your partner. Even with many trips to the restroom to count to one hundred, you will feel depleted by the end of the day. Airing your grievances to an ally will be the conduit through which you release your frustrations, anger, and disbelief. When you are no longer laden by these temporary feelings, then you may be pleasantly surprised at the laughter that will have room to creep in. This lightness of being will also make it possible to start the new day better prepared to face Mr. Self-Aggrandizer.

I’ve heard the argument that sometimes we can exacerbate a bad situation by talking too much about it. That may be true sometimes. In your untenable situation, you need to step out of your head (that you have worked so hard to keep together during the day) and release each negative scene of the day. When each scene is out there, then you and your ally can poke and jab at it until it lands deflated at your feet.

• • •

HARRY SAYS:

Rather than rely on an ally, start within yourself by walling this guy off from your heart and soul. Don’t let him get to you. This is not easy, but it will pay off—and make you stronger for the next crummy coworker.

 

LOUISE SAYS:

Walling off the guy is a great idea, but very difficult to do when working with him side by side. He may leave you a bit depleted, but he does not need to tear at your soul. That you can control by taking really good care of yourself and your friends.