Workplace or Jerkplace?
Ken Lloyd knows jerks. The career expert and author of the best-selling “Jerks at Work: How to Deal with People Problems and Problem People” runs a website and writes a newspaper column devoted to the most aggravating and annoying people in your workplace. His newest tome is “Office Idiots: What to Do When Your Workplace is a Jerkplace.” We asked him for his advice on how to deal with the most common species of terrible bosses. Here are 10 of the worst offenders and some tactics for managing them.
The Endlessly Distracted Exec
He’s nodding and saying “Mm-hmm” while you’re in his office updating him on a problem, but his eyes stay glued on his email inbox. At meetings, you catch him checking his phone.
How to handle it: “There are so many ways that managers can be weak communicators,” sighs Lloyd. “You need to bring him back to reality. Say, ‘This is important, should we talk later?’ Or just sit down and say nothing and it will gradually dawn on him, ‘Hey, there’s a human being sitting here.”
The Super-Suspicious Snoop
When she comes to talk to you at your cubicle, her eyes immediately dart to your screen. If you happen to ride up in the elevator with her boss, she’ll know in minutes and come ask what you talked about.
How to handle it: “Managers should manage by wandering around, talking to people, using all of their senses to stay on top of what’s truly going on,” says Lloyd. “If there’s an edge to it, if it feels excessive or micromanaging, it could be that your boss is under pressure from above and you’re feeling her anxiety about it. So keep it business-like and ask, ‘Is there anything we can help you with?’ Even better, see if you can arrange to update her regularly. That way, she might worry less.” And you might too.
The Conclusion Jumper
While you’re filling him in, he’s finishing your sentences. Before you can propose a solution to a problem, he’s already telling you what to do.
How to handle it: “This is pretty common because managers are or perceive themselves to be so busy that they’ll often push on and say, ‘Okay, I get it, let’s move on,’” says Lloyd. “Remain calm and don’t take it personally, or you’ll undermine yourself. Don’t start talking faster, trying to get it all in. Just keep going and stick to the facts. You can also help yourself by bringing whatever factual evidence you have—emails, reports."
The Bellicose Boss
She might have your back a little too much. You update her on that little problem with the tech guy, and next thing you know she’s gunning to get him fired. Report that Accounting turned down a supply request, and suddenly the two departments are locked in combat. Other managers hate her—and you fear that, by extension, they’ll hate you too.
How to handle it: “If people are in this conflictive mode all the time, you’re talking about a personality characteristic that isn’t going to change. But you may be able to affect behavior,” says Lloyd. “First, let her vent, because she’s got to get it out and if you cut her off she’s not going to hear it. After she’s had her catharsis, then it’s time to really talk. Focus on the factual outcomes, and try to let this person see if they approach it in a different way, you can get to a better solution. And if they do back off, it’s very important to reinforce that behavior: ‘That really worked out great. Thank you for doing that.’ People like recognition, including managers.”
This is the guy who snorts derisively in a brainstorming meetings, or writes cutting comments on your reports. When you present a new idea, he asks so many pointed questions you feel like you’re in a game of ‘Gotcha!’
How to handle it: “This is a power need—a need to show ‘I’m smarter and tougher’—and an affinity for control,” says Lloyd. “So as soon after the behavior as possible, but not in the meeting, try to find a calm time when he’s in a good mood and go talk to him. Avoid asking ‘why’ and using the word ‘you’—both make people defensive. Focus on yourself: ‘I sensed in the meeting that my comments really weren’t on target, and I’d worked really hard to prepare. I think I need some help here. Can you tell me more about this?’”
The Badmouthing Boss
Behind closed doors she’ll give you an earful about your co-workers’ weaknesses—but you’re pretty sure she’s never talked directly to them. Now you have to wonder: What is she saying about you behind your back?
How to handle it: “Don’t dive into the conversation, because you don’t want to reward the behavior—and if she’s badmouthing everyone else, you can bet she’s badmouthing you too,” says Lloyd. “If you want to, you can try to give a little perspective—‘I’ve never had a problem working with Linda’—but don’t get lured into being your colleague’s defender. Then say something like, ‘It’s your decision how you want to approach that’ and try to get the discussion back to the real work that needs to be done.”
The Ticking Timebomb
This is the screamer, the door-slammer, the phone-thrower. “Surprisingly, this [type]--immature, arguably unstable, and acting like a two-year-old in a managerial position--is pretty common,” says Lloyd.
How to handle it: “This is not someone to approach one-on-one because it’s arguably a dangerous situation. So while generally it’s not great to try to run up the ladder, this is one where, if you have an active, functional HR department, you should go to them first, or go to his (or her) boss. Do it in a group, so it’s clear it’s not a conflict with one person. Management needs to know because people get hurt, and companies get sued over this kind of behavior.”
The Chronic Oversharer
Last night, she and her husband got drunk, had a fight and slept in separate rooms—and you know it because she told you. Oh, and the upcoming firing of your colleague Betty in the Sales Department—yeah, she told you about that too.
How to handle it: “Some managers are just prone to talking, either because they don’t have filters or they just have this compulsion to keep words going,” says Lloyd. “As you’re sitting there listening to information that’s really not for your ears, try to find a way to exit. At some point, during a break in all the verbiage, make a perfunctory comment like, ‘I’m still so behind, I need to get back to my desk’ or ‘I have a phone call scheduled, so I need to bow out.’ People who talk a lot are used to being interrupted and cut off, because others do to it to them all the time, so your manager might not even notice. Then next time, see if you can go into the meeting with a colleague, or arrange for someone to come get you if you’re not out in 10 minutes.”
Mentally Absent Manager
Strategy? Goals? Whatever! Your manager is physically present, but you’re not sure what it is he does exactly—except play a lot of Angry Birds.
How to handle it: “There are probably two problematic managers in this situation: One is yours and one is your manager’s manager,” says Lloyd. If the behavior has gone on unchecked or unchallenged for awhile, senior management is implicitly condoning it. “It might be because of a special relationship, or maybe your manager has a very specific skill that’s valuable to the company but he’s in the wrong job. Either way, as professionals, you and your associates need to dig in, do your jobs and figure out how to manage up [and around him] so you can get your own work done.”
The Perpetually Indecisive
She puts off making decisions for so long that everything is always a crisis, and opportunities drift away before you can grab them.
How to handle it: “Lying underneath that is a huge amount of insecurity, fear of failure or fear of doing something wrong,” says Lloyd. “The only way to deal is to bring up deadlines: ‘It’d be great to get this decision by Friday so we can make Tuesday’s deadline.’ Try sending it through different media—an email, a text, a Post-It, a meeting—in case there’s one that your boss responds best to. But keep in mind that it’s important to document these suggestions so that if things start to fail at least you’ll be protected.”