The Velvet Hammer: 2.21.18

I love my job, but I work with someone who is rude on a daily basis and it’s really getting under my skin. Unfortunately, he is an exceptional contributor to the company and knows how to ‘manage’ our team leader, who is offsite and has no idea how he treats me or my colleagues. Any hints on how to survive this office jerk?
— Need Help to Make Life at Work a Little Easier

For many people, going to work every day has its difficulties, but compounded with having to deal with a jerk in the office—well, it can be unbearable. Mental health professionals will tell you that working with this kind of person on a daily basis can cause anxiety, depression, sleepless nights and even heart problems. Employees who have to work with these unpleasant characters find themselves being less productive and less creative, and making worse decisions as a result.

Battling the office jerk can be risky business, as well as upsetting and time-consuming. That said, there are ways to survive these bullies with a few techniques. Keep your distance. Sounds obvious, but sometimes simple solutions are the best. Limit the frequency and duration of your encounters with this offensive colleague. Even a few extra feet can help, because communication drops off rapidly as your physical distance increases. Recent research has shown that people who sat within 25 feet of a toxic employee were twice as likely to leave the company as employees who sat farther away. Slow down. Don’t let this bully have the pleasure of provoking any reaction from you. When you do have to respond to his calls or emails, do it as slowly as possible. Wait a few hours or a few days and when you respond, remain calm and composed to break his rhythm. Over time, he may look elsewhere and leave you alone, but if he persists, at least you know the drill.

Look at it another way. Reframe your office mate’s behavior by staying above the fray with a more positive, less threatening outlook. For example, tell yourself that you aren’t to blame, that he’s just a jerk doing what jerks do. Or rise above the situation, remembering what a former First Lady said: “When they go low, we go high.” This kind of protective reasoning will help you to reframe your situation. It also gives you permission to emotionally detach and help you tune out this bully.

One last, perhaps painful, point for those reading this column who may need a behavioral check: Look in the mirror. It’s not easy to admit that who you see may not be how others see you. There are a lot of jerks out there who aren’t confessing their sins. And you might be one of them. It’s never too late to clean up your act!

Joan Lee Berkman is a marketing and public relations consultant. If you have a question for Joan, send it to


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