Many companies have begun screening job candidates for "jerkish" tendencies and making it clear to employees that respecting others is key to how they're evaluated. But, let's face it, jerks aren't going anywhere. And they come in myriad forms, from abusive to just plain irritating. Our best bet is to understand the annoying characters that surround us, with the hope that knowledge brings power. Here's my comprehensive field guide to workplace jerks.
Habitat: Breakrooms, water coolers and other places workers gather.
Description: The One-Upper is stealthy, waiting for you or one of your co-workers to bring up an accomplishment before sliding in with an even-greater accomplishment of his own. There's nothing you can do that this person can't top. The One-Upper's amazing resume often stretches the limits of credibility.
Defense: Take away the opportunities to one-up. You don't have to shun the person — after all, he or she might just be insecure. Just recognize the tendency and don't bring up things the One-Upper will try to top.
The Loud Talker
Habitat: Usually the desk next to you.
Description: Loud Talkers broadcast their phone conversations — work-related or otherwise — far and wide, like larks signaling danger across the Serengeti. Loud Talkers are shockingly unaware of their volume and tend to have been raised near airports or in families that like Led Zeppelin.
Defense: The Loud Talker is often receptive to a kind mention that he or she is, well, talking loudly. This is, however, only a temporary fix as loud talking is a lifelong condition. But once you've raised the subject, it's easier to say something the next time.
Mac the Knife
Habitat: Usually the boss' office, stabbing you in the back.
Description: Mac the Knife is perhaps the worst of all workplace jerks. Mac is a soulless being with an alluring personality and seemingly genuine interest in collaboration and good work. Trust develops, and then is shattered when you realize Mac has been bad-mouthing you.
Defense: None. You rarely see Mac coming. The only hope is a warning from one of Mac's previous victims.
Habitat: Conference rooms, the boss' office or any place people meet.
Description: The Meeting Motormouth feels constitutionally obligated to talk — often at length — during a meeting. A patient creature, the Meeting Motormouth will often wait until the waning moments of a meeting to speak, and then will spiral off on multiple tangents. Because Meeting Motormouths are generally nice enough, it's difficult to tell them to put a sock in it. So precious moments of our lives are consumed for no reason.
Defense: Early identification and bold leaders. Figure out who the Meeting Motormouths are, and shut them down quickly — and politely.