A field guide to office jerks and how to deal with them

IMAGINE the workplace as a forest. We walk through the forest each day surrounded by creatures (colleagues). Some are kind of like squirrels and deer and animated talking bears. Others, like snakes, snarling wolves and mosquitoes, make the forest miserable.

IMAGINE the workplace as a forest. We walk through the forest each day surrounded by creatures (colleagues). Some are kind of like squirrels and deer and animated talking bears. Others, like snakes, snarling wolves and mosquitoes, make the forest miserable.

What we need is a field guide - a way of identifying office critters and learning to avoid them, if necessary.

Stanford University's Professor Robert Sutton says the jerks that seem to infest every office are more than just a nuisance; these people cost companies money.

"There's more evidence of turnover and more evidence that if you are around a boss or co-workers who, after dealing with them, leave you de-energised, you're less likely to work hard, you're less likely to be creative," he said.

Our best bet is to understand the annoying characters that surround us in the hope that knowledge brings power. Here's a start to what I hope will one day be a comprehensive field guide to workplace jerks:

The One-Upper

Description: The One-Upper is stealthy, waiting for you or one of your colleagues to bring up an accomplishment before sliding in with an even-greater accomplishment of his own. There's nothing you can do that this person can't top.

Defence: Take away the opportunities to one-up. You don't have to shun the person - just recognise the tendency and don't bring up things the One-Upper will try to top.

The Loud Talker

Description: Loud Talkers broadcast their phone conversations - work-related or otherwise - far and wide. They are shockingly unaware of their volume and tend to have been raised near airports.

Defence: The Loud Talker is often receptive to a kind mention that he or she is talking loudly. This is, however, only a temporary fix as Loud Talking is a lifelong condition. But once you've raised the subject, it's easier to say something the next time.

Mac the Knife

Description: Mac the Knife is perhaps the worst of all workplace jerks; a soulless being with an alluring personality and seemingly genuine interest in collaboration and good work. Trust develops, and then is shattered when you realise Mac has been bad-mouthing you.

Defence: None. You rarely see Mac coming.



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