Ever worked with a jerk? Yeah, me too. It’s not easy when someone chaps your hide on a daily basis. Find out how to have a better relationship with the jerk at work (and the difference between boorish behavior and harassment).
Be Careful What You Say
“Can you believe she said that in staff meeting?” I shook my head in disbelief and looked to my colleague for confirmation.
“Yeah, what a jerk.”
His use of the word ‘jerk’ brought me up short. After all, I set out at the beginning of the school year to change my attitude about people with abrasive personalities. I wanted to deconstruct my closet full of pigeonholes and see people in a different light. Evidently, I have a way to go.
“Wait,” I said, “I thought her comment lacked sensitivity, but I wouldn’t call her a jerk.”
He nodded. “Insensitive. That’s a good word. Wonder what we can do to help her?”
The bell rang and we moved towards our respective classrooms without really finishing our conversation.
His question lingered in my mind. How in the world can we help someone with boorish behavior, insensitive insights, and mean manners—in other words, a jerk?
Should we put up with boorish behavior at work, or let it slide in order to keep the peace? What if our boss acts like a jerk? If our co-worker acts like a jerk, who should confront him or her?
Acting Like a Jerk (We’ve All Done it)
As you read these three scenarios, think about what you would do or how you would feel in each situation (both as the jerk, or the recipient).
One quarter in college, I sat on the front row next to an attractive classmate and exchanged witty (at least I thought so) comments throughout the history professor’s lecture. I had never done this in any of the other classes I’d taken from this professor over the past two years.
My desire to impress the good-looking guy made me act differently (I usually sat in the back of the lecture hall and kept my comments to myself).
After class one day, the professor stopped me and said, “Is there something wrong with my class?”
“What?” I asked in confusion.
“I notice you can’t stop talking while I lecture. I’m starting to worry that I’ve gotten old and boring.”
Mortified by my insensitive behavior, I apologized for talking so much and fled the scene as quickly as possible. I greatly respected the professor, and had no idea I came off like a jerk. The next day, I sat somewhere else.
I once worked with a person who never spoke to me outside work hours—and we passed each other on our morning walks four or five times a week. I always smiled and waved, and this person completely ignored me. My co-worker’s insensitive behavior annoyed me.
Creepy, or Kind?
My daughter started working at a fast-food restaurant in high school. One of her supervisors (a manager) would offer to give the pretty girls shoulder rubs. When my daughter told me, I called the human resources department for the area franchise and reported the illegal behavior.
Insensitive Behavior vs. Illegal Behavior
First of all, you’ll need to evaluate and decide if your co-worker’s behavior falls into the insensitive or illegal category. We’ve come a long way in understanding the difference in the past decade.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,
“Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.”EEOC
Things that fall into the offensive (and illegal) conduct area include:
- ridicule or mockery
- insults or put-downs
- offensive jokes
- interference with work performance
- offensive objects or pictures
- racial slurs
- epithets or name-calling
- physical assaults or threats
- offensive suggestions (sexual)
- groping or inappropriate touching
Check your company’s guidelines for how to deal with harassment. The EEOC suggests,
“Employees are encouraged to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. Employees should also report harassment to management at an early stage to prevent its escalation.”EEOC
You might categorize the first five items on the list as boorish behavior if they only happen once in isolation. Let the offender know in a firm, but kind way that their behavior offends you and you expect it to stop.
The last six items on the list require immediate documentation and reporting to management—even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
How to Have a Better Relationship with the Jerk at Work
The law protects you against harassment and illegal behavior, but only you can create a better relationship with the garden-variety jerk at work. These steps should help.
1. Talk to the Person as Soon as Possible.
I once had a co-worker call me as soon as the school day ended and ask to drop by my classroom to talk to me.
I agreed, and when he came by he let me know that something I had said in staff meeting had really bothered and offended him. We had a civil conversation, and I acknowledged that I sounded like a jerk when I made the comment. After a short conversation, I realized how snarky my comment had sounded to him, and I apologized.
My co-worker used Matthew 18 as his guide. He came to me first, rather than complain to other people and build up support for his cause.
I appreciated the opportunity to explain my actions, ask for forgiveness, and resolve the issue.
2. Examine Your Core Values
Sometimes we think of a person as a jerk because their core values don’t align with ours. Perhaps financial security tops their list of core values. Therefore, their statements and comments will reflect that core value.
If making people feel safe and secure tops your list of core values, you may perceive those statements and comments as offensive because they seem to disregard compassion in decision-making.
Don’t just write off someone or their behavior, take the time to analyze what bothers you. Quite possibly, the other person might think you act like a jerk with your ‘bleeding-heart’ concern for people that might affect the bottom line.
Think of ways to have conversations about the core values of the organization and how your values align with them. Perhaps the other person’s attitude reflects the organization’s core values more than yours does.
3. Heap Coals of Fire
That sounds pretty bad, but it comes straight from the Bible, first in Proverbs 25:21-22. I struggled as a little girl reading the King James Version of this verse,
“If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee.”KJV
It made no sense to a hot-tempered seven-year-old what coals of fire had to do with sharing and doing kind things for people I couldn’t stand.
I begrudgingly tried to share and act nice towards people I didn’t like. Much later I read Romans 12:20-21 in a different version and realized that making a practice of ‘heaping coals of fire,’ helped me more than the person I considered a jerk.
“Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”The Message
4. Attempt to Build Relationships and Engender Empathy
I once started a new job and immediately tangled with a feisty, nearing-retirement co-worker who told me off in no uncertain terms. Her attitude and verbal attack stunned me, because they seemed to come out of nowhere.
I chose to ignore her unkind words, and work to build a relationship with her instead. Even though she had worked for the school district longer than I had, the principal had asked me to lead out in our department. At first, I thought her attitude stemmed from resentment over the principal’s decision.
As I got to know her, I realized her attitude towards me had nothing to do with me. She had experienced a variety of upsetting incidents in her long tenure in that district. Months later, she apologized for her comments the first day of school.
I worked with her for two years and considered her a friend by the time I transferred to another building.
5. Pray for the Jerk at Work
When someone at work annoys you (whether once or multiple times), consider praying for that person. I know that my boorish behavior often stems from the problems I face. Because I feel badly about something in my own life, I might snap at a student or a co-worker, or make a comment without filtering it first.
Remember that we all struggle. We can either tear each other down (by pigeonholing the person as a jerk) or build them up (by praying for them). Jesus not only tells us, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44),” but he set the ultimate example of loving and praying for his enemies.
Better Relationships Take Time
Better relationships, whether with our adult children, our grandchildren, or our co-workers take time. But better relationships with other people form a solid basis for self-care. When you have good relationships and a strong support network, you benefit yourself.
You might find journaling a helpful exercise in working through your thoughts and feelings regarding relationships and your goals for better relationships. I know journaling and prayer have helped change my negative attitude about certain relationships since August. Heaping coals of fire has helped, too!
Whatever your motivation for setting goals in your relationship domain this year, know that you can change. Give yourself (and everyone else) grace as you grow.Give yourself grace as you work to form better relationships with the jerk at work. #relationships #goals #selfcare #SelfCareSunday Click To Tweet