How to deal with a terrible coworker


You’ve got to learn how to deal with workplace jerks if you’re going to advance professionally — and preserve your sanity.

Robert Sutton, professor of management at Stanford University and author of “The No Asshole Rule,” spoke to a number of individuals who have coped with less than ideal coworkers for his upcoming book “The Asshole Survival Guide.”

His sources included people who have worked with back-stabbers, incompetent and abusive bosses, and even one man who dealt with a noisy coworker who, according to a decibel meter, was as loud as cutting metal.

He said that, in many cases, it’s best to either avoid working with jerks in the first place or quit and move on. But that evasive maneuvering isn’t always warranted — or possible for everyone.

With that in mind, Sutton broke down seven strategies for surviving the worst people in your office:

Use cognitive tricks to look on the bright side
Sutton described the experience of a young lawyer who worked for a federal judge as part of a two-year clerkship. Her coworkers and boss were incredibly hard to deal with, but quitting would have been tantamount to career suicide. It’d also leave her drowning in student loan debt.

Sutton said the young lawyer coped by using a simple cognitive behavioral trick. She simply imagined herself at the end of her clerkship.

“When you’re in a difficult situation, if you can say to yourself, ‘If I can just get through tonight and look back on it over the weekend, six months, a year from now,’ stressful situations actually do much less damage on our mental and physical health,” Sutton told Business Insider.

Retain your sense of humor
Another example of cognitive distancing that Sutton recommends is trying to find humor in terrible situations.

“That always helps,” he said. “It’s amazing. You start laughing at people. That’s certainly what I do with some of my more difficult colleagues at Stanford.”

Physically avoid the worst people at work
Switch desks to get away from your annoying neighbor. Sit as far away from the rudest person in the office during meetings. Try to change up your schedule to avoid running into your workplace enemy in the kitchen.

The less you come into contact with workplace jerks, the better, said Sutton.

Exert power when you can
If you have power over a colleague who’s behaving badly at work, then take a stand. Sutton cited the example of Paul Purcell, the former CEO and current chairman of wealth management firm Robert W. Baird.

“He tells people during interviews, ‘If I discover you’re an a——, I’m going to fire you,'” he said. “And he does.”

If you don’t take action, your complacency could erode workplace morale.

Collect evidence of bad behavior
Sutton said that documenting your experience with terrible coworkers is crucial, especially if the situation morphs into a legal or HR matter.

“That doesn’t always mean you’re going to win for sure, but it increases the odds,” Sutton said.