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Jerks at Work: 7 Difficult Colleagues, and How to Deal with Them

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Jerks at Work: 7 Difficult Colleagues, and How to Deal with Them

NOTE: This one’s especially for our Indian audience, so don’t worry if you don’t catch all the references. We think you’ll still enjoy it anyway.

Difficult people are everywhere. Usually we can simply avoid them, but in the workplace…there’s no escape!

Most people have some sort of work etiquette, but some have very little. Yet they still have a job. They are jerks.

Jerks at work are a challenge we have to face. But how?

If you were Sunny Deol, you could use your dhai kilo ka haath.

But you’re not Sunny Deol and HR might not approve of that sort of behavior.

You need to be professional, and not get canned.

So let’s look at the most common kinds of jerks you’ll find in the workplace, and ways to deal with them.


Gossip Mongers

Gossip mongers are the types who always look for an excuse and reason to gossip.

Gossip gives them energy, a sense of purpose. These people always find one another, magnetically.

You’ll find them speaking in hushed tones by the coffee machine or over their cigarette smoke.

Gossip Mongers never speak well of anyone. They spread rumors. They’re like vamps of an Ekta Kapoor drama, just in an office setting.

How to deal with them

Sadly, in the workplace, it’s usually not OK to outright tell someone you’ve had enough of their babble. Take a more under-the-radar approach.

Don’t acknowledge or respond to their gossiping. Treat it like a passing wind.

Excuse yourself from their company now and again. In time, you’d hope, they’ll get the hint that you don’t want to be around them.

Unfortunately, you may become the object of their gossip but you can’t do much about that. Just stay clear of it.

Robert Sutton, a psychology professor at Stanford University, has written a book on this. He uses a bit rougher language than in this article (you have been warned). He suggests careful use of time and power are keys in neutralizing the jerks.



These types never let you finish a sentence. They finish them for you, as if they think they’re your better half.

If you’re on the same level as them or above them, you’re be more forgiven for beating them at their own game.

But beware, they can also be your senior who thinks he’s licensed to finish what you started.

The constant interruptions are personally disrespectful. Yet they also break your chain of thought and you forget what you were talking about.

How to deal with them

A few times when they finish interrupting you, smile and say, “I wasn’t finished yet” or “That’s not what I was going to say.” An even gentler reply is “Hmm, I see. What I really meant was…”

The width of your smile matters. It shouldn’t be big enough for them to assume you’re OK with it and shouldn’t be slight enough for them to feel offended.

And you may have to interrupt the interruption.



There are those in the habit of carbon copying (Cc:) mails to department heads, heads of department heads, the supervisor’s mum, Rajnikanth, and anyone else they think may have some interest.

Such serial Cc-ers are a pain because they unnecessarily involve people in their mailing tactics. Some are just bad with email and hit Reply All. Others are deliberately trying to curry favor with the higher ups. These were the teacher’s pets in school. They still haven’t gotten over it.

Even more, once you’re in this silly CC trail, you’re usually obligated to reply to everyone.

How to deal with them

These are a bit more case-by-case. Many supervisors see right through this.

Bring it up in your review in a roundabout way. Ask your supervisor, “I noticed that some people CC you on every mail. Should I be doing that as well? It seems a bit rude, but…” Now you’ve reframed the offender without even naming names.

There will also be chances for you to send a hint and Cc people like they do. Go on, hit the Reply All and leave a very intelligent response.


Credit Stealers

They may be the jerkiest jerks because they directly affect your work, and nobody wants to have their work, and their pride, stolen.

Credit stealers are the living versions of the Palika Bazaar. They deliver the first ripped off version of the original. They’ll dig and probe into you in for ideas. Then you’ll hear them parroting them in the next meeting.

You’re in a bind then. You can’t say, “Hey that was my idea!” Who’ll believe you?

You need to be extremely aware and careful of these types.

How to deal with them

While they may be the worst, they are also the easiest to deal with. This is because they are transparent. You can see their strategy.

If they burn you once or twice, think back on how they got the ideas out of you. Was it over a “friendly” chat? Or over drinks?

Don’t let that happen again. Give them the minimum feedback and avoid offering any good ideas.

If you can, always be involved in the chain of communication, participate in presentations and state your input.

You can also take a lesson and be more open about your ideas, rather than protecting them. In the same way, sharing contacts can actually be beneficial. Connecting people and sharing ideas gives value to other people.

If they are good people, they’ll recognize this, and reward you later in some way.



Oddly, people who know very little are often the ones who make the most noise in meetings. They are professional talkers and BSers. Throwing a few efficient phrasal verbs here, some industry jargon there, a few soundbites from what they stole from others. Then they expect to be rewarded for being so smart.

How to deal with them

The best way to deal with a know-it-all is to counter-question them. Remember, they just pretend they know, and they hide behind their language. They are into theatrics but are usually thin on substance.

Instead of directly pointing out their fault, check their facts. Ask them for their opinions on some specific and difficult questions. When they answer, just reply, “hm, that’s an interesting perspective.”



Hotheads blow into a rage, or at least a huff, on a regular basis. When they pick a fight with you, it can harm your status at work. It puts you in a bind because fighting back obviously won’t make you look good.

But being too weak can make you seem like a pushover; that’s not good either. When they are above you on the corporate ladder, you sometimes just have to take it.

How to deal with them

The key here is realize the individual hothead pattern. Some have a pattern of getting visibly upset until they get their way. Then they magically cool down, and even become quite sweet.

Others are just generally in a sour mood all the time.

There are reasons for this, and you must be sympathetic to them. The best way is to know what their trigger points are and not touch them.

Psychologist Douglas LaBier states creating an emotional buffer zone, perspective expansion, and engaged indifference as some of the ways to elude such powerful jerks. Also, HR may be on your side, because “power harassment” is an increasing issue these days and company often don’t tolerate it.


Nosey Folks

Some people think they need to know about everything, including you. They can often be cross-referenced with the Gossip Mongers. You just get off a call and they ask you, “Who was that?” Your instinct, as a good person, may be to tell them.

You don’t have to tell them.

They may just be bored, curious, or lonely. But in office politics, often the nosy people are gathering evidence to use for their advantage. Be careful here.

How to deal with them

They ask you because you answer them. Only provide them with the minimum. Rather than saying nothing, you can be indirect with replies such as “oh, just a personal matter” and leave it there.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne in an article with Psychology Today gives some handy tips like changing the subject, using deflection, and stating discomfort. If it’s a constant trend, or you’re truly offended, ask them, “Why do you ask?” Maybe they have a legitimate reason.


In Summary

To deal with the office jerks, use your good judgment to decide if the person is really a jerk, or just being jerky for a short while. Make pragmatic responses and chant three words: CCTV, HR Department, EMI.

And if you don’t one person in the entire list of jerks in the article, please consider, maybe it’s you?

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