Creative Leadership

How to Deal With Petty and Insecure People

It’s one thing to recognize petty and insecure people in your workplace, but something else entirely to learn how to deal with them. Early in my career I had the opportunity (yes -“opportunity”) to work for one, and it gave me an education into human behavior. It’s particularly challenging when your boss or client is petty and insecure, so particularly if that’s your situation, here’s a few tips about what to do:

1) Take the high road.   Petty and insecure people are desperate for recognition, and will rob you blind when it comes to credit. But don’t let that derail your momentum. Your day will come. They desperately need credit because they can’t come up with original ideas on their own – and that’s why they need you.

2) Don’t get pulled into their games.  Don’t be a jerk, but be creative. If they try to pull you into gossip or other petty activities, just gracefully find a reason to leave.

3) Don’t back down.  It’s one thing to take the high road, but another to be a doormat. Never let petty people walk all over you. Even if it’s your boss, stand up for yourself. Again – don’t be a jerk, but don’t be too quick to back down either.

4) Keep a journal of their stupidity.  At some point, it might be appropriate to discuss them with a higher authority. But keep in mind two things – first, they might be friends with the boss. Second – you’d better have data to back up your arguments. If you can prove that their petty and insecure behavior is disruptive, costly, or building strife, a good boss will take action.

5) Try to understand the underlying reasons for their pettiness and insecurity.  It might be that they grew up with an overbearing father. Maybe they were told all their life they were a failure. Perhaps it’s masking something else. Most people aren’t jerks because they want to be, but because they don’t know any other way out. Chances are, if you can figure out the underlying cause, you’ll be more sympathetic, understanding, and in some cases, you could be the instrument of their deliverance.

6) Finally:  Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated.  This isn’t original with me, but it’s great advice. Keep in mind that many workplaces are a family business. Therefore, your petty boss or co-worker is never going to be fired. Sadly for some situations, blood is thick. So be patient, bide your time, and keep your resume polished.

Keep reminding yourself: “Your day will come…”

Any other good techniques for dealing with petty and insecure people that I left out?

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23 Comments

  1. I’ve found #5 tends to work with most people. Oftentimes they’re insecure because they just don’t understand the opportunity or the impact. They fear they’ll appear stupid by asking questions so instead they fight the change.

    Finding ways to understand where they’re coming from and helping them to save face with the rest of the team can go a long way in converting an adversary into an advocate

  2. This goes in my list of things to remember: GO WHERE YOU ARE CELEBRATED, NOT WHERE YOU ARE TOLERATED.
    We could all improve life a lot by remembering that bit of profound wisdom.

  3. Spot on advice, Phil. I like that you listed taking the high road first. That bodes well when dealing with petty, insecure people and life in general. Well done.

  4. Jealousy, intolerance and failure to give credit where it’s is are all pretty common in workplaces all over the world. One ambitious to succeed needs to counter it all to be able to move up the career ladder. Excellent strategies to deal with perry-minded, jealous and incompetent
    colleagues!

  5. Just found this article – thank you! Currently struggling with the idea that all my best ideas are taken by someone else, who then blatantly gets the credit for it. I don’t know how to defend myself, without also appearing petty and insecure. I have just tried to keep quiet and hope that sooner or later, the insecurities will reveal themselves. Man, that is hard!

    1. There’s no question you’re in a tough situation. My opinion is that they can’t operate like this for long. You can’t rip others off forever without getting seen for what you really are. I try to make situations happen where if they take credit for something, their boss then asks them how they did it. As soon as they come up blank, they’re exposed.

    1. Yes and its pretty disgusting! My 61 year old husband is very petty. It was cold in our room when he was getting ready for work. He was standing next to the radiator, I woke up and said: Can you please turn on the heater. He said in a harsh voice: ” You didn’t say good morning to me!” Right away my anxiety went up. I said Oh Good Morning. He has a serious problem. Arrogant, ego, and PETTY! He also is very short! Napolean Syndrome along with all of that!:-(

    1. I wouldn’t say so because sometimes some very negative behavior can grow out of simple pettiness. If this is a workplace, petty behavior can be reported to HR and making notes when it happens and what the effects is to everyone’s best interest.

  6. I believe a person who envies your character is also prone to being petty with you. Surely, the popular cause for envy can be based on material possessions, but it is not the only reason. I do not take it lightly when someone is petty with me because I do not trust the pettiness will be limited to sarcastic remarks.

  7. Great article. Sometimes we forget to just move on quietly rather than torment ourselves when people ignore us or are petty to us. And, when having to deal with a situation on line vs in the real world, the good thing about online is you can just take a higher road . The same for in person, but we have ‘Walk softly and carry a big stick.’

  8. It is difficult when the co-owner of the business is the petty insecure individual, who uses the lie that it is the other owner, who starts random, individually directed, policy changes.

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