Posts Tagged ‘Sheila Heen’

Service of an Obnoxious Co-Worker

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Photo: npr.org.

A friend who directed a large department at a major corporation advised her staff about dealing with difficult people at the office. “They are like mosquitoes,” she said, “they can’t hurt you; they are just mindless irritations that you can swat away.”

Photo: youtube.com

At least one insufferable person works in almost every office, organization or business. Most of us have faced or observed them. “They’re the people who demean and disrespect you. They might steal credit for your successes, blame you for their failures, invade your privacy or break their promises, or bad-mouth you, scream at you and belittle you. As the organizational psychologist Bob Sutton puts it, they treat you like dirt, and either they don’t know it or they don’t care.” Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, wrote this and shared his tips on how to best endure in a New York Times article, “How to Deal with a Certified Jerk at Work.”

Photo: mindsight.clinic

Becoming defensive isn’t the solution, wrote Grant. He approached a heckler in the audience of one of his presentations. He called for a time out, approached the offender and said “You’re welcome to disagree with the data, but I don’t think that’s a respectful way to express your opinion. It’s not how I was trained to have an intellectual debate. Were you?” The critic had called him ignorant and said Grant didn’t know what he was talking about. After Grant sent him backup data, the fellow apologized. Dr. Sutton calls a person like this “a temporary jerk.”

Grant reported: “Research on the psychology of certified jerks reveals that they have a habit of rationalizing aggression. They’ve convinced themselves that they have to act that way to get the results they want.” The way conflict mediation expert Sheila Heen told Grant that she might respond to an aggressive person is by saying “Really? It was my impression that you were smarter than that, and more creative than that — so I bet you could come up with some other ways to be just as clear without having to actually rip somebody else apart.”

You might not be able to speak with a boss or manager this way so Grant suggested decreasing your independence and minimizing your interaction with the chief while at the same time increasing his/her dependence on you. Dr. Sutton had a different idea: consider the person a “spectacular, amazing specimen” for your study of jerks to change “your attitude toward the situation.”

How have you dealt with an obnoxious creature at work? What do you think the inspiration is for a person to act this way? To use my friend’s analogy of treating work jerks like a mosquitos, what repellant do you use to divert their attention? Are there any positive outcomes of surviving the negative dynamic?

Photo: wikihow.com

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