Skip to main Content

How to deal with the jerk co-worker you can’t avoid

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | Alaska Workplace
  • Updated: September 14, 2020
  • Published September 14, 2020

You’ve met him. The coworker with an attitude. Who mutters nasty comments under his breath and takes pleasure in being unhelpful.

You avoid him when you can, but your job places you in direct contact with him. Some days you can handle it. Other days he gets to you, cutting your job satisfaction to zero.

On days when you have had enough, you talk with your manager, who acts as if you’re making a big deal out of nothing. You wonder if that’s true, even as your morale nosedives. You like most everything about your job other than “Jerk,” but start looking for a new job. Here’s what your manager needs to realize and what you can do.

Jerks come with a high price tag

Your manager makes a mistake when he brushes you off. Not only will he lose you, but you may serve as the canary in the mine who warns of additional workplace problems.

Harvard Business Review’s article “The Price of Incivility” documents the productivity damage toxic individuals cause. According to the article, 80% of those on the receiving end of incivility lose time worrying about it; 78% said their commitment to their employer decreased and 66% said their performance declined because of continued rudeness; and 63% lost work time avoiding the problem individual. Others surveyed concerning their reaction to incivility admitted to intentionally decreasing their work effort (48%), work quality (38%), the time they spent at work (47%) or to taking out their frustration on customers (25%). Some, like you, ultimately resigned.

Out the jerk

Out the jerk. If you’re in a single party consent state like Alaska, tape his comments. Keep a record of his email exchanges. Document what he does that creates problems. Provide it to your boss along with a copy of HBR article.

When he makes a nasty comment and there’s anyone nearby, ask, “Could you repeat that?” If he answers, “Can’t you hear?” respond, “I thought you said 'x' but didn’t believe anyone would say something like that and thought I’d misheard.” Keep your tone neutral so you don’t reward him by letting him know he got under your skin.

By outing him, you take back power. If you stay silent, you let him get by with it and feel slimed in the process.

Teflon yourself

We spray Teflon on pans so cooked food rinses off. The next time someone treats you rudely, Teflon yourself with this truth: “The rude person indicts himself, not you.” Resolve to waste no more time on “why does he” or “how could he”; instead, rinse off his rude comments or treatment and let them hit the floor.

See past

If you’ve ever played a compromised CD, DVD or tape, you heard static or other distortion, but underneath, words or music. When someone treats you poorly, don’t let his or her incivility consume your job satisfaction. Focus on and handle the issues, handle them and later raise your concerns so you won’t face future disrespect. If the problem is chronic, and from a boss or long-term relationship, this might mean you walk away.

Use the energy

Does the jerk’s behavior stick with you? Use it and let it power your next physical workout, whether you kick-box (you guessed it, use them as an imaginary target), run on the treadmill or swim in the pool. Anger can help you run or swim a mile more, and then, it’s out of your system.

Respect and self-care

Temporary rudeness from someone who doesn’t care about your feelings means little. How you treat yourself and them matters more than how they treat you. Treat them with respect, because that’s part of your fabric. Treat yourself with dignity and care, because that’s the feeling you take home with yourself.

[Because of a high volume of comments requiring moderation, we are temporarily disabling comments on many of our articles so editors can focus on the coronavirus crisis and other coverage. We invite you to write a letter to the editor or reach out directly if you’d like to communicate with us about a particular article. Thanks.]