Dealing With the Jerk(s) at Work
Dealing With the Jerk(s) at Work
Last Summer, Marketwatch surveyed Fortune 500 companies regarding their work-from-home strategies. Seventy percent of those companies said they needed employees back in the office at least three days a week. Believe it or not, the COVID virus, like every other virus in history, will eventually run it’s course and most of us will be returning to the office. Gone will be the days of extra sleep, sweatpants and attending Zoom meetings in our underwear. Morning commutes, business attire and cubicle life will once again return to the forefront.
More important, we’ll all be forced to work in close proximity with other human beings, some of whom we find odious. You know who I’m talking about. Every office has that person, the one who is overbearing about their religious, political, or philosophical views…or the demanding boss…or that cubicle mate who just smells bad. We can’t get them fired and we really shouldn’t kill them so what can we do about the jerk at work?
The only thing we can control is our reaction but, as it turns out, that particular form of control represents a LOT of control. We can in fact, turn the tables completely and arrive at a place where the “Jerk”, no matter how loathsome, becomes someone we understand and care for. In doing so, we can even come to the point where we love getting up on Monday and going to the office. Before you call in the men in white suits to carry me away, read just a little further.
Differences Don’t Need to Matter – A Tale of Two City-boys.
It was the best of menus, it was the worst of menus, it was the age of emotion, it was the age of reason. Perry Thompson is indeed the Prince Valiant of Vegans. He can recite vegan health benefits by heart, he can probably name all the vegan restaurants in Dallas, and he can spontaneously elucidate the superiority of one vegan menu ingredient over another. Russell Duckworth, on the other hand, is the Tsar of Tartare. Russell was the kid who slipped his vegetables to the family dog beneath the dinner table. He loves red meat and he loves it rare, seasoned with plenty of salt and butter and maybe even a little Bourbon. Russell has a t-shirt that says “PETA – People Eating Tasty Animals”. Russell is a carnivore.
One might expect that Perry and Russell would loath inhabiting the same room. After all, they come from different racial, cultural, educational, and employment backgrounds. So, what’s the epoxy that binds this unholy duo together? The first half of the epoxy, the binding agent (and, epoxy always comes in two parts), is “mutual respect.” These two guys each realize that the other is a valuable human being with unique ideas and experiences worth listening to. The second half of the epoxy, the hardener, is “personal equity” – they’ve both invested time and energy into making each other successful. It’s the existence of mutual respect that allows them to disagree amicably without seeing their differences as a threat. It’s personal equity that facilitates constructive confrontation – the ability to give and receive criticism without judgement. I’m not saying that Russell will eventually accompany Perry to Sprouts or that Perry will send Russell a gift box from Omaha Steaks. They have, however, found a way to not just co-exist, but to help each other thrive.
Equity Pays Dividends
Personal equity in another human being increases as we begin to invest ourselves in that person. The great thing is that the other person doesn’t even have to know we’re investing in them, at least in the beginning. We cannot invest in someone for very long before our attitude towards them morphs into something new. No matter how self-absorbed they are, no matter how belligerent their attitude toward us, they will eventually notice the change. A tiny minority will react defensively to that new dynamic, but the vast majority will recognize the foundations of a bridge and start building from their side of the chasm.
Regardless of their reaction, the investment of our time and energy into co-workers, spouses, friends, or even the wait-staff at the local coffee shop — without the expectation of something in return — yields an immense change in our own level of optimism. And that change in optimism is the first domino in a chain that leads only upward.
Moreover, our investment in another human being need not imply some tacit validation of their lifestyle or beliefs. We’re simply choosing to stop dwelling on differences and begin focussing on something that transcends the day-to-day friction.
Great Reads, Good Listens
“Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must-Reads On Mental Toughness”
by Martin Seligman, Tony Schwartz, Warren Bennis, Robert J. Thomas
If, like me, you sometimes find yourself trying to remember why you came into a specific room, this book’s for you. It’s about exercising your brain to improve your mental acuity and increase longevity. It’s actually a reference to a lot of other good reading on the subject. If you’re thinking you’ll never be that memory-challenged old person, you might be right because some crazy old coot like me might just run right over you in our truck while you strut mindlessly down the sidewalk we’re driving on. Perhaps you should buy this book for an older friend.
“Talking to strangers”
by Malcolm Gladwell
Recommended by Russell Duckworth
“The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight: The conviction that we know others better than they know us and that we may have insights about them that they lack (but not vice versa), leads us to talk when we would do well to listen, and to be less patient than we ought to when others express the conviction that they are the ones who are being misunderstood or judged unfairly. We think we can easily see into the hearts of others, based on the flimsiest of clues.
We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic, but the stranger is easy. If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this, that strangers are not easy.” — Malcolm Gladwell
If that doesn’t convince you to read this book, nothing I can add will be of any value. One cautionary note: While this is unquestionably a superior guide to better understanding both ourselves and strangers when it comes to interpersonal communication, it analyzes some very dark and disturbing contemporary situations that may leave the reader uncomfortable.
“Positive emotion alienated from the exercise of character leads to emptiness, to inauthenticity, to depression, and, as we age, to the gnawing realization that we are fidgeting until we die.”
― Martin Seligman