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Women in Business

How to Deal With Jerks at Work Without Becoming One

Dealing with a jerk at work can be particularly challenging and triggering for strong, assertive women.
How to Deal With Jerks at Work Without Becoming One
Image credit: fizkes | Getty Images
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3 min read
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I have the privilege of working with a lot of assertive, direct women. They aren't afraid to speak up. If they have an idea, they share it. When someone says something they disagree with, they express their counterpoint. And when they feel personally attacked by a colleague, the hairs on the back of their neck may stand up and they prepare themselves to fight back.

This is where things get tricky.

Related: 8 Things You Can Do When You Have a Toxic Boss

We keep telling women to be confident, to not take crap and to stand up for themselves. But, that doesn't always work in our favor. Especially when we're dealing with jerks.

You know who I mean.

That jerk who always undermines you. That jerk who shows up late to all your meetings and plays on his phone the whole time except to chime in when he disagrees with you. That jerk who gaslights you and makes you feel crazy for any concerns you have. That jerk who blatantly lies.

Dealing with a jerk at work can be tough for anyone. But, it can be particularly challenging and triggering for strong, assertive women.

These women have spent their whole careers speaking up and refusing to be pushed around. Some have even developed a chip on their shoulder because they've had to fight so hard to get where they are today.

Related: Men: Be the Hero

What this means is that the tactics that have helped you get ahead in your career won't work on jerks. In fact, speaking up and fighting back will probably only make it worse.

This is something that comes up regularly for my clients. (Sadly, there are still a lot of jerks out there.) Typically, when jerks rear their ugly head, I see my clients either fight, flee or do nothing at all. None of these options are going to really resolve the situation in your favor.

So, what can you do?

Instead of fighting back, try to be sympathetic.

Could something else really be going on here that's causing the jerk to be a jerk -- something besides you?

Related: Are These Habits Getting in Your Way?

Instead of fleeing, try to communicate more.

Suggest going out for lunch or coffee and ask questions and listen more than you talk. Let the jerk feel heard and keep things light. If you have an opportunity to address the situation, be diplomatic, not accusatory. All of this involves taking the high road and being humble.

Instead of doing nothing, work to resolve your feelings.

Don't react in the moment, but write it down. Try journaling about the incident or focus on how you will feel about it in the future. This imaginary time travel can help diffuse the situation and make you realize that it won't matter much in the long-run.

And if you really can't improve the situation, don't stick around. Being miserable at work sucks and can chip away at your self-esteem, emotional well-being and health.

These strategies take some work and may not feel natural at first, especially for bad*ss assertive women who don't take crap. But with time and practice, you'll get there.

(By Elena Lipson. Lipson is the principal and founder of Mosaic Growth Partners, a consulting and coaching firm based in Washington, D.C.)

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