Since I don't have a real job, I take special pleasure in reading about how bad having a real job can be. So, of course, I found it impossible to resist Jody Foster's The Schmuck in My Office: How to Deal Effectively With Difficult People at Work (with Michelle Joy, St. Martin's Press, April 2017). No, not that Jody Foster--Dr. Jody J. Foster, clinical professor of psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at UPenn.
None of us are perfect, but Foster directs our attention to those select employees who really are schmucks--10 types of people whose personalities are so difficult and disruptive that they create chaos on the job, upset their co-workers, and drive their managers to distraction. Unfortunately, you'll recognize many of them. There's the Bean Counter, whose obsessive demands for the most minute details ensure that nothing meaningful ever gets done, and the Robotic, whose inability to connect with others on anything near a human level leaves people frostbitten and demotivated.
But even these knuckleheads are tolerable compared with the worst schmucks that Foster calls out in her book: Narcissus, the Venus Flytrap, and the Swindler. Here's how to recognize these three types and minimize the damage they can do to you and your company.
Narcissus, the condescending attention-seeker
Narcissus never saw a mirror he didn't love. You can spot Narcissists by their arrogance, temper tantrums, entitlement issues, and relentless self-involvement. They are lousy listeners who cannot take the most tactfully-delivered criticism, and they feel no empathy for their co-workers.
Narcissus is the big talker in the office who bullies anyone who voices a contradictory opinion and often takes credit for others' hard work and viable ideas. If you've got a workplace "where politics is the predominant culture" and employees are "always trying to figure out where they are in the hierarchy," says Foster, be on the lookout for Narcissus.
How can you de-fang Narcissus? Foster offers these tips:
- Flattery calms Narcissus, so praise and compliment him to keep him from feeling threatened and to avoid his outbursts of anger.
- If you need to ask Narcissus to do something or confront her about her behavior, sandwich it between compliments so she can hear it.
- Respond quickly to requests and invitations from Narcissus and avoid ignoring him.
- Avoid putting Narcissus in positions or situations where she can take credit for your work or disparage you.
The Venus Flytrap, the epicenter of emotional chaos and instability
Don't get taken in by the Venus Flytrap's "sticky sweetness despite its aura of danger or desperation," says Foster. These are the overly-sensitive employees who become obsessed with getting even for real--or imagined--slights.
These schmucks are especially dangerous in high pressure jobs. "When the Flytrap can't manage her stress," warns Foster, "the entire office can be turned upside down." Employees like this deal with stress by cursing, pacing, crying, or, in the worst cases, lashing out in anger so vehemently that they destroy property or assault others.
How can you defuse the Venus Flytrap? Foster offers these tips:
- First and foremost, do not allow yourself to play a role in the Flytrap's unfolding drama.
- Provide structure for the Flytrap and manage him with consistency.
- Set, communicate, and apply boundaries to the Flytrap, such as weekly check-in/problem-solving meetings that last a predetermined length of time, and reiterate those boundaries often.
- Be empathetic with the Flytrap, but enforce a strict no-tolerance policy against unwanted behaviors, and reinforce positive conduct with lots of praise.
The Swindler, the manipulative rule-breaker
Swindlers are charming and attractive. But underneath the surface, their con-artist minds are always figuring the angles. These schmucks always have a scheme to line their own pockets and, to avoid getting caught, they will intimidate anyone who becomes suspicious. At best, the Swindler is weaseling out of work, secretly using office petty cash to buy his own lunch, and taking advantage of any shortcut or loophole he can find--or create. At worst, he is a psychopathic embodiment of evil.
How can you identify Swindlers? Foster says look out for employees who don't play well on teams, never admit to being wrong, and have no compunction about lying to cover their tracks.
How can you avoid getting taken to the cleaners--or fed to the fishes--by the Swindler? Foster offers these tips:
- Don't hire them. Always do your due diligence by running background checks, vetting references, verifying licenses, etc.
- Take away the loopholes with a written code of conduct.
- When a Swindler is caught, document the incident and fire her immediately.
- Protect yourself, even if that means leaving your job.