How to Out Smart the “Jerk at Work”

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Do you have to deal with a “Jerk at Work”?

Tessa West, 40, an associate professor of psychology at New York University, can trace her interest in studying workplace behavior to a college job. Little did she know then, but this experience would influence her career.

West then “spent a lot of time researching the power of our relationships with other people in solving our jerk-at-work problems.

West has tried-and-true strategies for conquering a “low-level a**hole,” as she’s taken to calling them. (And, never overlook the fact that sometimes you might be filling that role.) Here are three:

Don’t try to beat them alone

“You need to find allies at work, and I don’t mean close friends to whom you complain,” said West. Instead, West encourages you to think about your colleagues who are at arm’s length, “who are outside of your usual network, and who can connect you with new people who either know how to convince your boss to care, or are in touch with other victims.”

Don’t avoid confronting your jerk

But — confront carefully. And early. You want to nip any issues in the bud before they spiral out of control.

“Don’t lead with the problem behavior or how it makes you feel. Instead, lead with something you would like them to do more of,” West suggested, conceding that this can sometimes feel like squeezing water out of a rock. “When you do complain, focus on specific behaviors and avoid generalizations. Lastly, ask for some feedback yourself. If it feels like a two-way street, your jerk will be less defensive.” And, regardless of where an individual is on the workplace totem pole, the same advice applies.

Put yourself in your boss’s shoes.

Before you take an issue to your boss, gauge how things may appear from their perspective. “There’s a good chance your jerk has a talent or two that your boss appreciates, and recognizing these talents is the first step to getting on the same wavelength as your boss — and quite honestly, from preventing you from looking like a petty, jealous complainer,” said West. “Also, most bosses are shockingly unaware of how many seemingly lovely people are jerks when they aren’t around.”

Beware the remote jerk

“One, a lot of the work we do becomes invisible — no longer do our colleagues see us doing things like helping someone learn the new software program, or giving them advice on how to level up their presentation,” she said. “Two, our social networks shrink. Broad networks are key to getting ahead at work; so too is having ‘informal work’ seen and appreciated.”

West believes if we recognize that we’re missing out on these two things, and work harder to repair them, we all benefit.

Sometimes jerks are clients

If you’re juggling the demands of several clients, West stressed the importance of getting as much feedback and advice as possible from people who succeeded at the thing you are trying to do.

“Find your network of people, identify those who are kick-ass on the job and create a network of feedback givers and askers,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you work for TaskRabbit and you wish more people would select you to build their Ikea furniture, or you’re a freelance writer, and you need advice on how to get an editor to respond to your pitches, the advice is the same. It won’t feel good at first — I cried more than once —but it works!”

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