There are jerks at work … people with patterns of gaslighting, stealing credit, being passive aggressive and worse (resources here and here for those situations). But then there is jerk-at-work-behavior. This differentiation helps me pause when I encounter a zinger lobbed my way and respond to that behavior without immediately shifting the person into permanent jerk-at-work category.

Once you’ve taken up residence in my mind as a “jerk-at-work,” it’s challenging for me to open up space to build anything beyond a carefully managed transactional relationship. Knowing that about myself, I’ve worked to find a way to respond to jerkiness that preserves the possibility of an effective (even trusting) relationship while also asserting my own boundaries. My goal is to create some space for dialogue without issuing an invitation to be walked all over. 

Here’s what I find helpful in navigating the initial moment of realizing I’m dealing with jerk-at-work-behavior:

Know your default setting. I freeze in the moment and feel embarrassed that someone is being a jerk to me. As if this is my fault and my thing to be embarrassed over. It’s not but that’s where I go. Knowing that helps me pause in the moment, take a deep breath, and decide on a response.

Know your purpose or values. In an emotionally charged moment, if I’m clear on my purpose or values I can use that to guide my response.  One of my values is curiosity. So, if I can, I’m going to ask a question and try to learn more about the pieces of the puzzle I’m not holding.

 Identify your go to responses.. I aim for responses that are empathetic and assertive. It often feels like we have to choose between an effort to connect and maintaining our own boundaries. It’s possible to respond in a way that creates space for relationship or understanding and holds the line on being treated with respect. I like:

I’m getting the sense there’s something else going on here. Can you help me understand what you’re reacting to?

That comment stings. Can you help me understand what you’re trying to convey?

This conversation is no longer productive. Let’s pause for now. Let me know when you’d like to talk about x in a way that we can both be heard.

The varsity move is not just to plan for how to respond to the jerk-at-work but to do a little work with the person in the mirror – who can also behave like a jerk. Most of us show up as jerks from time to time. The work is figuring out your own hot buttons and developing a plan for noticing when your inner jerk is about to make an appearance and having a strategy for meeting the need you’re feeling without showing up in a way that alienates people.

Three other things from me this week. Things that weigh more the longer you carry them, a case for concise emails, and – I made these brioche cinnamon rolls over the weekend with cream cheese frosting. So good.