How should you deal with that annoying person at work?
There’s always been that one person at work that always rubs you the wrong way. At its mildest, it can be a distraction; at its worst, it can feel like you’re being ostracized or even bullied. But how can you extinguish these bad vibes and awkward moments? I chatted with two renowned physicians to get the insider information on how to deal with the schmuck in your office.
Dr. Jody Foster is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Michelle Joy is a forensic psychiatry fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Their new book is The Schmuck in My Office: How To Deal Effectively With Difficult People At Work. I recently interviewed Jody and Michelle to get some advice on how to work with the jerk in your office. (The transcript below has been edited lightly for space and clarity)
Kevin Kruse: How did this book come about, and more importantly, how did this title come about?
Dr. Jody Foster: Well, I do have that Wharton MBA so I know the book had to fly off the shelves. Psychopathology Of Difficult People wasn't going to do it. The real way that we came up with this title was that in the work that I do with disruptive characters in the workplace it's probably the single most common chief complaint that I get when I pick up the phone. “Dr. Foster, I should have called you 10 years ago. I've got this schmuck in my department. I have this schmuck in my office. I have this jerk I'm working with.” And it's the way that people feel frustrated when they have someone who they want to stop acting a certain way and they don't know how to get them to do it.
Dr. Michelle Joy: Jody and I were working together on it in patient units since she does multiple types of psychiatry, as I have so far in my career, and I just knew I wanted to be involved in the book just because it's such a common experience, how to get along with people at work. It's something everyone wants to know how to do and relate to, so it's an exciting project for me to get involved with as well.
Kruse: You have labels for personality types like ‘The Fly Trap’, ‘The Robot’, ‘The Bean Counter.’ Tell us a bit about the most common personality types, and what we can do when we’re dealing with them.
Foster: Sure, so one of the most important points in the book is that the people that you're working with― no matter how much they annoy you ―they probably aren't walking around with psychiatric diagnosis. These are people who have traits, and those traits are perhaps rubbing up against you the wrong way or rubbing up against the culture against the office the wrong way. But, they just are who they are, we bring our personalities to work with us and that's just the way it is.
So, having done this work for quite some time now it's become kinda clear to me that the types of people who have interpersonal trouble at work tend to fall into categories and I've categorized 10 of them and we renamed them from their potential psychiatric diagnosis to kind of reaffirm that these people aren't ill. They're just evidencing certain traits.
The single most common type would be ‘Narcissus.’ Who is the ego-centric, it's-my-way-or-the-highway, the-world-revolves-around-me type of individual who takes credit for everybody's work and bulls over people, things like that?
‘The Bean Counter’ is sort of the maddening obsessive compulsive, micromanager who doesn't let you get your work done, or do things because they're sort of stuck in their ways and their ways of doing things.
Joy: And just building on those two examples right there, what we try and do in the book is try and give everyone a general playing field in which they can think about their schmucks. No one is necessarily a perfect match, but we try and help people fit someone into a category in order to understand them, but then also give them techniques on how to work with them, help them and help the relationship.
So, for example, with a narcissist, what you're going to want to do in broad strokes is to cater to that person's narcissism. Make sure that you're fanning the flames of their own ego and choosing your battles wisely. You want to make sure that you don't get into something where they feel threatened or otherwise belittled.
For ‘The Bean Counter’ that Dr. Foster mentioned, that's someone, this is the orderly person who's really nitty gritty with the details. You want to make sure that you don't go toe-to-toe with them on the details. You want to let them make sure that they feel some control and let them be in control and then work around that for the things that really matter to you.
Kruse: You say a universal prescription is empathy. Could you tell me about that?
Joy: Well, one thing that we like to emphasize in the book and in our clinical and business day-to-day lives, is just the importance of understanding. We say a couple times in the book that for most people, they're not setting up to be schmucks. They don't intend to be rude to others, or to make other people's lives difficult, but they're caught for some reason. Whether it's something going on in their lives, whether it's something about their past. They're stuck in their own patterns of behavior.
So, by understanding the category that someone fits into, that's a lens of empathy that allows you to understand why a person might be acting that way, and that sense of understanding gives you some control. And, it makes you less likely to feel angry about the person. Just gives a sense that they might be trying their best and try to understand it so that you can work with them, instead of against them.
Foster: Right, I mean… take the narcissistic character: the underpinning of the narcissistic character is profound insecurity. And sometimes when someone is bowling you over and filling room with his or her ego and just annoying you, reminding yourself that they have to do this because in fact they feel so small, and feel so insignificant. That they actually have to blow themselves up to make themselves as big as possible. That sometimes allows you to hear it with different ears.
Kruse: Maybe at one point we were all the schmuck in the office. So, doctors, how would we know?
Foster: So, you know everybody's got traits and as you read the book you're probably… If you're reading with an open mind, you're going to recognize parts of yourself in various places. I think the trick here is, if you're in workplace after workplace and it's always everybody else’s problem and, you're never quite settled in a place where you're getting along well with people, it's time to kinda turn the lens back onto yourself. Maybe you're in the wrong culture, maybe you do have some conflicts that you're bring to work that you don't realize how much they're affecting the workplace but like I said, relationships are kinda 50% each and we're bringing half of it to every relationship we come to, and we have stuff no matter who we are.
Kruse: I like to challenge our listeners to get 1% better every day. So is there something specific you’d like to challenge them to do today?
Joy: Just building on that last question about being the un-schmuck in the office, I would say the next time that someone or something is bothering you, or if you can think in your mind about some person or some theme of things that's been bothering you, just really sit down and take a second to ask yourself “Why is this person, why is this theme bothering me so much? Is there anything I'm bringing to the difficulty? Is there anything I'm bringing into this relationship? And the next time, I see the person can I do something to make it easier instead of laying the blame on that person, or that theme?”
Foster: Just building on that last question about being the un-schmuck in the office. I would say the next time that someone or something is bothering you or if you can think in your mind about some person or some theme of things that's been bothering you, just really sit down take a second to ask yourself “why is this person, why is this theme bothering me so much? Is there anything I'm bringing to the difficulty? Is there anything I'm bringing into this relationship? And the next time, I see the person, can I do something to make it easier instead of laying the blame on that person, or that theme?”
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.