This article originally appeared at American Express OpenForum
An astounding 45 per cent of American workers say they’ve experienced workplace abuse, according to a 2007 nationwide poll by the Employment Law Alliance.
This statistic wouldn’t surprise Stanford professor Robert Sutton. After writing an article on the topic in 2004, Sutton received hundreds of e-mails from people who had been bullied in the workplace, so he decided to write The No arsehole Rule. In it, he profiles some notorious bosses, such as Al Dunlap, the ex-CEO of Sunbeam who has been described as a “dog barking at you for hours…He just yelled, ranted and raved. He was condescending, belligerent and disrespectful.”
Difficult co-workers not only reduce productivity, Sutton argues, but they induce intelligent and qualified employees to quit. And unlike Dunlap, some are more passive-aggressive with their bullying tactics.
To identify a difficult employee, Sutton poses these questions:
After talking to this colleague, do you feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized or just bad about yourself? Does this colleague usually target people who are less powerful rather than those people who are more powerful?
Here, he shares how to avoid poisonous co-workers (and ensure you don’t become one yourself):
The best way to deal with destructive or negative co-workers is to limit your exposure to these people. Meet with them as rarely as possible or schedule short meetings in rooms without chairs—this can shorten a meeting by 34 per cent.
Lean on trustworthy co-workers
It’s not your place to change your co-worker’s behaviour—and you probably can’t anyway—but look for help from trusted friends and co-workers, and focus on things that you can control, like feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. That will make all the difference.
De-emphasise status differences
Companies that offer preferred parking spots, or large corner offices, tend to experience more bullying in the workplace. Another good way to keep nasty attitudes outside the office is to write your company rules down for everyone to see.
Give others credit when deserved
Especially if work was done collaboratively. And never interrupt while exchanging ideas or discussing projects with coworkers.
Share your ideas without fear
Also, be willing to share your information with co-workers. A tendency to hold cards close to one’s chest—for example, closing tabs or computer documents when someone comes by—gives an impression of mistrust and makes co-workers feel like competitors.
Don’t blame others when times get rough
If all you seem to come up with are excuses, and other co-workers to direct the blame, then you’re on the wrong path. criticise others only in the same measure as you are willing to be critiqued yourself.
Don’t take it personally
If you work with people who treat you like dirt, they have not earned your passion and commitment, Sutton says. A temporary solution is to try to numb yourself from their negative comments and actions as much as possible.
Try polite confrontation
“Some people really don’t mean to be jerks,” Sutton says. And they don’t know they’re behaving like one until you say something. He received an e-mail from an office worker telling him her boss finally backed off after she told him his behaviour was “absolutely unacceptable and I simply won’t tolerate it.”