How to deal with every type of dickhead in the workplace

work 06/04/2017

You might get to choose where you work, but you sure as fuck don’t get to choose who you work with – and this can cause a lot of problems.

Most offices have a resident asshole (or two, or three) that everyone else likes to bitch about. When one leaves another usually takes their place.

For all you know, you could be the asshole.

Discussing work politics and other colleagues behind their backs, sadly, tends to be a bonding factor for many teams.  

The unfortunate truth is, we’re not supposed to get on with everyone. That’s not how people work. As hard as you might try, some people are going to like you and some people are not.

Work will almost always be a weird time when it comes to social dynamics. You might encounter a honeymoon period where everyone seems to be getting on like pigs in shit. But in the wise words of Isaac Newton: “what goes up must come down.”

Most people spend 40 hours a week, if not more, with the people they work with.  A lot of us spend more time with the people we work with, than we do our close friends and family.

And the potential for conflict is always brewing, which can make for a competitive, hostile, stressful or sometimes just straight toxic environment.

Earlier this week two clinical professors in psychiatry published a book called The Schmuck in My Office: How to Deal Effectively with difficult People at Work.

And it’s genius.

Co-author Judy J. Foster explains how to deal with every different variety of fuck nugget in the work place, by exploring the personality traits that cause them to behave the way they do.

"There's value in categorizing people," Foster says. "The fact is people with similar traits tend to act in similar ways. If you can get your arms around that, not in a punitive way to diagnose them or pigeonhole them, but just to try and get the underpinnings figured out, then you can really make an impact."

Foster’s got the people who are likely to disrupt an office pegged down to nine different categories and she’s given some solid advice on how to deal with them.


The Narcissus


"This one is pretty much self-explanatory," Foster explains. She also believes The Narcissus is the most common type of office disrupter.

You know the type; ego-manic, entitled, condescending, value their opinion over anything and everybody else, would probably suck their own cock if they could...

Foster explains:  "It's all about them. My way or the highway. Takes credit for other people's work. The center of everything. Fills the room with ego."

In handling The Narcissus, Foster suggests appealing to the person’s egocentricity. So, essentially, be the bigger person.

“The occasional recognition of the person's achievements, strengths, or values may go a long way in avoiding anger or demeaning comments."


The Suspicious

AKA the paranoid mother fucker who always thinks someone wants/is screwing them over. If neglected/ignored these people can often poison work environments with their negative thoughts. However, underneath that distrust and paranoia, usually lives a sensitive and insecure soul.

"Individuals of this type are always on the lookout for harm, exploitation, and deception," Foster says. "They judge relationships by their degrees of loyalty and trust." 

Foster advises being open and honest with The Suspicious type, and giving them options instead of direct instruction, this allows them to gain a sense of control and feel as though they’re valued and respected.

"Direct conversation using simple statements and explanations works best,"

She also notes, The Suspicious type are the most likely to get violent in the workplace, so she urges: “always try to avoid being confrontational.” 


The Distracted

A little bit nutty, a little bit brilliant, but badly organised and terrible at time management. The Distracted are usually well liked in the office. However, they have difficulty finishing tasks. This can lead to stress for other employees, especially if they have to pick up the distracted person’s slack.

Foster says the best way to handle The Distracted is to be clear and patient.

"Encourage The Distracted not to over commit themselves. Finish one task before starting on the next."


The Bean Counter

This is your micro-manager. The control freak. The obsessive. The one who is constantly on the attack when it comes to details, and makes anyone prone to anxiety, feel nervous with as little as one pointed look. They keep everyone in line and are usually quite successful… which can actually be a real detriment to the office dynamic.

Foster explains: "Bean Counters are commonly over-promoted, because they're 'detail people,' and being a detailed person can be great." However, once in a managerial/leadership positon they can cause a lot of distress for the employees under them due to their tunnel vision and failure to see the bigger picture.

To handle a Bean Counter, avoid challenging their detail-orientated nature, vocalise your appreciation to their dedication to the job, but also highlight your own dedication and passion. 

Foster advises avoiding promising more than you can deliver, be honest about what you can do and take responsibility for your fuck ups.

However, don’t let yourself be bullied into a martyr role with the Bean Counter, you could find yourself taking responsibility for more than your fair share and then having to face consequences that aren't yours to bear. 


Mr. Hyde


Your resident office addict.

"Mr. Hyde is the name I gave to somebody who is bringing an addiction issue into the workplace," Foster says. "You hire Dr. Jekyll, and then, all of a sudden, you see that they have flipped into somebody else."

Sometimes it’s not obvious Mr. Hyde is a Mr. Hyde.

 "What you have to look for is a change from how they used to be. You might see moments where they are back to their usual baseline, and then they sort of slip off again. These are people who are maybe trying to self-correct, stay clean during the work week or whatever, but inevitability the cycle of use causes a decrease in work function and can cause lots and lots of disruptions interpersonally in the office." 

Foster's words of wisdom?

"Reinforce that you are there to help. Be firm with limits and consequences. Recognize that recovery can be punctuated by setbacks."


The Lost

You’ll recognise The Lost type by the dead look in their eyes.

Typically, The Lost has had a long and successful career. However, where they are now is probably not where they thought they would end up. There is often a sense of bitterness and resent. But it's only when they start exhibiting a case of the old scatter-brain that they become truly disruptive in the office.  

Foster says: "It's very difficult, particularly with somebody who is entrenched in a work place, to call out when there are problems of cognitive slippage or cognitive decline, but these issues can be extremely disruptive to the workplace,"

She suggests having a supportive conversation to help The Lost accept the difficulties they are now having. She advises using clear and simple language, and emphasises being supportive.



The Venus Flytrap

Foster explains the Venus Flytrap as: “a person who cycles between overvaluing and devaluing you, sucking you in, but then can cause a lot of chaos when they flip into something much more negative," 

The Venus Fly Trap often has a lot of feelings and a lot of energy. Like the name suggests you’ll likely be drawn to them, just like flies to the deadly flower.

"The Flytrap can cause tremendous drama in the office, the type where people feel they need to walk on eggshells around them so as to not set them off. To deal with a Fly Trap, you have to define limits and continuously reinforce them. They want to be directed. They want to learn acceptable boundaries, and structure will comfort them."


The Eccentric


As the name suggest these guys are a little bit weird. They believe or see things in a different way to how the rest of the team interprets life… that DOESN'T make them intrinsically bad people. You can’t hate someone for being different. Actually, people do that all the time. But it’s a shitty way to live. So, if you are the person to hate on someone just because they’re not like you… work on that. Because you are categorically an asshole based on that fact alone.  

However, although The Eccentric are not "bad guys", they CAN cause problems in the work place, as they tend to be quite passionate and vocal about their beliefs, which often leads to others feeling uncomfortable.

Think of the vegan who is so passionate about their cause, they storm up to your desk on a Monday morning and lecture you about that Snapchat you posted on Sunday afternoon while lying in bed, eating Wicked Wings.

Suddenly they're needling you on everything from genetically modified animals, to how you don’t need chicken in your diet because all the nutrients are just injected into them these days anyway, to climate change, to the apocalypse... in the space of about four minutes.

Damn, that’s some heavy shit to start your week off with… It’s like: “Okay. I see where you're coming from. I know the world's fucked. In fact, I fully support your cause. And I’m glad there are people like you who care enough to try and make a difference. And hey, I only buy free range eggs... I’m trying here… sorta." 

But. Fuck. It was a Sunday morning, I’d spent nine hours hooning back beersies, snorting some sort of illicit powder in a toilet, gurning my face off in a club and then screwing a stranger the night before.

I woke up with a nasty headache and an uncontrollable hankering for fried chicken. My stomach is still filled with regret. Please leave me alone....

Yes. The Eccentric sometimes just take things a bit far.   

So, what does Foster have to say on how to handle this guy?

“To deal with this person you, should be gently direct as you point out that his or her personal beliefs shouldn't be thrust onto others.”

Gently, gently, gently does it...



The Robotic

The most socially inept of the office/work place. Foster explains that The Robotic's emotional disconnection leads to people not understanding them, and this can make them very aggressive/angry when issues arise in the office, particualrly if it involves them. They’re the type to throw a tantrum without anyone seeing it coming or understanding why, they're also the type to thow out some serious shade with no regard for how it makes the rest of the office feel.

Foster advises using one-on-one meetings over a group setting. "Rigid, predictable schedules and explicit defined tasks are ideal," she explains. "Helping the Robotic recognize how their behavior may impact the feelings of other can be beneficial."


Know a bunch of people this applies to? Maybe it's struck a chord a little too close to home? Wanna know more? Check out Dr. Jody J. Foster's book  The Schmuck in My Office: How to Deal Effectively with Difficult People at Work is at Amazon.com.