Working with a jerk? You’re not alone. Employees often define a “work jerk” as someone who is rude, sarcastic, bossy or worse. They make our lives at work stressful.

At their core, work jerks are people who don’t have the social skills to be successful or even tolerable at work. They fail to leverage workplace relationships to improve productivity, performance or morale.

There are two types of jerks in the workplace: those who are unaware they are jerks (after all, any of us could exhibit jerkish traits unknowingly when faced with conflict or stress) and those who are aware they are jerks but don’t care. They act that way because, for whatever reason, they choose to.

Not addressing the “how to work with jerks” challenge is costly to individuals and employers alike. Most individuals go to great lengths to avoid jerks, missing out on key meetings or collaborations. Others become so fed up with dealing with jerks that they leave the company. You may have heard the old but still relevant expression, “People don’t leave companies; they leave bad bosses.”

What’s worse than employees’ leaving? The output from employees who stay! Without effective leadership, these employees do the bare minimum. The fallout of poor leadership includes low morale, poor performance and, arguably worst of all, employee disengagement — all of which have a monetary impact on company growth and productivity. In fact, according to Gallup research, 70% of employees are not engaged, and the 18% of employees who are “actively disengaged” can cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity annually.

Establishing Good Workplace Relationships

Even if you work with a jerk, workplace relationships are paramount to productivity. Good relationships lead to improved morale, which leads to improved employee engagement, performance and productivity, and happiness as well as less stress.

It doesn’t matter how experienced, talented and gifted you are; you can’t do your work or be successful without relying on others. As such, you won’t get very far in your career, and you will always be at least somewhat ineffective at what you do, if you can’t establish healthy working relationships.

So, how can you build better workplace relationships with jerks and people of all types?

The AAA Method for Not Letting Your Emotions Get the Better of You

When dealing with conflict from jerks, we tend to let our emotions get the better of us and react without considering the consequences of our actions. This response not only makes a bad situation worse, but it can cause us to behave like jerks, too!

Instead of making an impulsive decision when engaged in a heated discussion, we need to take a more measured approach, demonstrate poise, and respond thoughtfully and professionally.

Consider this three-step process that helps you manage tough situations, improve your relationships with others and achieve better results with the people you can’t stand (especially the jerks). It’s called the AAA Method: assess, analyze and act. The only way it works is through deliberate practice, and it requires a conscious effort to employ these steps while in conflict.

Step 1: Assess the Situation

When dealing with conflict at work (or in your personal life), it’s important first to assess the situation. This assessment involves not only being aware of your emotions and how you are feeling but also how the other person is feeling.

Reflect on a specific situation that occurred recently. What did your behavior or body language signal to the other person? What behavior or body language did that person signal to you? Sometimes, when we are stressed or dealing with a difficult situation, we can exhibit physical reactions, such as a faster heart rate, shortness of breath, clenched muscles, eyerolls or sweaty palms.

How do you respond when stressed at work? You should be aware of your body gestures and others’ body gestures in addition to the current situation. For example:

  • Do you have a tight deadline you have to meet?
  • Are you working on an important project?

Step 2: Analyze the Situation

Once you have assessed the situation and are aware of what your emotions and behaviors are signaling to others, the next step is to analyze your emotions and behaviors themselves. Determine why you are feeling stressed, and seek to understand and reflect on the thoughts and feelings of the other person involved. For example:

  • Why is the other person acting rude or abrasive toward you?
  • What has caused stress for you both?

Step 3: Act

Once you have a full understanding of the situation, you can respond and act most appropriately. This final step prevents your emotions from getting the better of you and keeps you from making an impulsive decision you will most likely regret.

Remember, in conflict, we cannot always be right. When you take the time to assess and analyze the situation, you may determine you are in the wrong, which may require you to apologize or adjust your response.

Practice Makes Perfect

We are not always able to choose the people we work with. We can, however, choose how we handle our relationships with them, including the jerks.

Often, when we are caught up in the heat of the moment, we skip directly to step 3 and act based on how we are feeling. This response causes more problems and may worsen relationships or even jeopardize our careers. Following this AAA process, in order, will help you communicate more effectively with everyone in the workforce, mitigate conflict before it comes to a head and prevent you from making a rash decision that you may regret.

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