The research is crystal clear on what, ideally, should be done about the resident office jerk -- just fire them. Not only is your worst employee probably costing the company twice as much as a star employee is earning it, according to science, but that jerk is almost certainly making everyone else miserable along the way (according to just about everyone who has ever had to endure one).
But what if that's not possible? Maybe terminating that toxic employee isn't your call, or maybe as an entrepreneur this problem person plays an unavoidable role in your day-to-day business. Whatever the reason, for the moment at least, you're stuck with him or her.
If this sounds like your situation, HR expert Ben Olds offered a suggestion on recruiting blog Fistful of Talent recently: try to actually learn something from the experience. The only mature way to deal with terrible colleagues is to use their awfulness for self-improvement, he argues.
That's tricky (and not entirely pleasant), he concedes, because making lemonade out of lemons in this way requires you to focus not just on the utter incompetence or nastiness of your rival, but also on how you're contributing to the situation. That can be a tall order, but Olds offers those hoping to rethink their relationship with the office jerk a simple plan to follow.
Step 1: Stop assuming he or she is only one thing.
Sure, your nemesis might be overbearing or rude or bad at some aspects of his or her job, but rarely (if ever) is a person only these things. Olds tells the story of a past rivalry he had with an incompetent colleague. "He might have been incompetent. But people are more than one thing," he notes. "But I got locked in on one trait, and then blinded myself to only see that one trait over and over again, failing to see any good in him and getting more frustrated in the process. We all do this--we get locked into our perspectives and ignore any alternative data."
Olds' bottom line advice: "When you hear yourself reducing someone to one negative trait, recognize that there's a strong chance you aren't seeing the whole picture."
Step 2: Quit playing the victim.
Yup, this is hard, but it's also empowering. If you acknowledge that your behavior might be making things worse, you've taken the first step down the road towards practical action that can make things better.
"Stop playing the victim and recognize that you're one of the people contributing to this bad dynamic. And you have a chance to break the behavioral patterns that keep getting reinforced with each interaction," Olds instructs.
Step 3: Focus on how YOU can change.
Other people aren't under your control, but your behavior is. So if you really want to be less miserable, it's time to do what's actually possible to improve things.
"Ask [the office jerk] what impact you're having, how he/she believes you're contributing to the problem, and what he/she would want you to do differently to get better results. If you can approach him/her with genuine curiosity, and resist the urge to respond with defensiveness (which will shut off the flow of free information), you could be awash in valuable insights," concludes Olds.
This step-by-step guide couldn't be simpler, but implementing it might just tax your generosity of spirit. It might be worth the effort though. Not only because your day-to-day grind should get more pleasant, but because, as entrepreneur Lauren Bacon has pointed out elsewhere, studying people you hate (and why you hate them) is a surprisingly effective route to self improvement.
Could you stomach following Olds' advice with your least liked co-worker?