Research Articles

Your Co-Worker Really is a Jerk

Your Co-Worker Really is a Jerk is not a “PC” approach to the issue of interpersonal conflict, yet a real-life scenario that can plague many.  Each and every person has some burden, responsibility or a guiding factor in their personal lives, that at times can manifest in the professional setting.  Unfortunately, when these situations become large enough the traditional approach to dealing with them becomes less effective and in many cases only spawns a higher degree of angst, resulting in conflict.

When I coach teams and executives around conflict management it is always critical to define the “type” of conflict, and I use these categories:

  1. Ego Based
  2. Jealousy Based
  3. Projection
  4. Legit Misunderstanding
  5. You Really are a Jerk

These five categories provide a set of very simple guidelines to work through, diffuse and sometimes avoid conflict all together.  Let’s look at them in a simple high level way:

  1. Ego Based:  This category is most common in corporate cultures that promote high performers that are aggressive and “self” driven.  We find these cultures predominate in a sales driven, market conquering and start up scenarios but certainly not limited to those.  In any event, conflict driven from ego can become personal fast, because the individual sees all interactions as personal.  Thus, the other side of the equation is automatically seen as an adversary who is threatening the existence of this persons being.  Wow, how do you overcome that?  Well, the solution can be easier than you think; just don’t be like that person.  There is no ego in the resolution, really, it is humility.  Now that is not to say you show weakness and submit to the other side, it simply means you respect the other side and use humility to diffuse ego.  This takes an artful application of sincerity and patience as you cannot show frustration.  Over time a bond of trust can be built and the ego will be diffused out of respect.  The key here is to maintain continuity and sincerity in your approach.
  2. Jealousy Based: This category is common in all cultures and is sometimes exaggerated in cultures that play the “comparison” game.  You know, “Mary always does this so effectively, you should follow her lead.”  This type of leadership spawns resentment and resentment translates to jealousy at the individual level when left unattended to.  Akin to the ego, this human emotion can lead to self-driven agendas and breakdown the essence of any collaboration.  Essentially it sets the stage for divisive actions.  The best defense for this is a one-on-one conversation that establishes a shared self-worth.  You see, we all have great points and if we share them and are willing to recognize them, we not only overcome jealousy, we actually create a much stronger stage to build upon.  In essence we accentuate each other’s strengths and help to build on weaknesses.  This simple form of collaboration can immediately squelch jealousy.
  3. Projection:  This category is pretty straightforward.  Find the resolution in logic, because the individuals actions will not align with relevant topics you may be working on.  Thus, an easy conclusion is that this individual is projecting due to an underlying and probably unrelated issue.  The best resolve; address the awareness of that and offer a helping hand.  If that is met with denial and refusal, which it probably will be, the spoken word and “calling out” is usually enough to make the persona aware of what they are doing and the behavior will usually subside.  Now, if the person is harboring something very heavy, it may not just disappear so be willing to constantly make it known you are there for them, but also make it known that disruption to performance is not going to be acceptable.  This constant tie back to logic and performance will be another tool to help curb this scenario.
  4. Legit Misunderstanding: This category falls into the “you know what” happens.  That said, it is also akin to the logic based thinking scenario from above.  If you are in conflict with a person and cannot quite understand why, there is probably a misunderstanding.  This does not mean you use misunderstanding to “win” it simply means you need to clarify the facts and terms.  This can be accomplished by simply discussing the essence of confusion as I like to call it.  This is a side step approach to discussing a conflict without making more conflict.  Kind of like taking the conflict out of the spotlight and providing a non-threatening place to discuss the elements associated with it.  Upon completion of that, apply the findings back to the conflict and you will find it is much easier to interact with the facts.
  5. You Really are a Jerk:  This category is not meant to be funny, although I do chuckle when I think about it.  Look, sometimes the steps above just don’t work, that is reality.  So, unless you want to quit every job where you have conflict, turn your back on every person you disagree with and basically become a self-righteous person yourself; you have to learn to deal with this issue.  Sometimes it is okay to “agree to disagree” and continue to collaborate for the common good.  However, it is critical that both parties understand the boundaries of the disagreement and can work in and around them to spare any collateral damage.  It is on that point I recommend the most discussion here, not who was right and wrong, that is irrelevant in this agreement.  In the minority case where a relationship becomes so toxic it is forcing you to cross ethical boundaries or drop your convictions of believe; then walk away and move on.

The above points won’t solve all conflicts for you, however when thoughtfully applied they will get you started on a path to resolution.

Written by Phil Ventresca, M.B.A.